What a fabulous night for stargazing! Clear skies, no wind, and loadshedding! Thanks, Eskom, for providing the ideal viewing conditions – at last those pesky sodium streetlights are extinguished, the neighbours’ outside halogen lamps are done with, and all is quiet except for the nearby swish of the wavelets creeping in on the tide. No need to head for the Karoo to gaze out into the universe with awe as thousands more stars twinkle above than the naked eye can normally see.
If you haven’t taken a pair of binoculars outside on a calm, warm evening (why be uncomfortable?) and simply looked up without attempting to identify any of the stellar or planetary bodies, do yourself a favour. You will get a whole new perspective on our planet, our galaxy and perhaps even yourself. You might find yourself wondering about the meaning of life and why we exist. Or you might just be amazed at how some of the stars actually have colours – red, gold, blue and even green. You will most likely spot more than one man-made ‘star’ hurtling in an almost eternal orbit overhead, as the Earth has satellites buzzing around it like bees about a buddleia. The International Space Station is easily tracked with apps such as Heavens Above and as it makes an overhead pass far above you, taking 6 minutes to travel into and out of view, you know the astronauts are looking down at you as well. A little surreal.
Observation becomes easier with experience as your eyes become accustomed to what they see, or rather, the brain interprets the new input correctly. You will spot gas clouds around stars, dark patches of dust that block out the light, and magical fuzzy balls that are made up of a million stars. Soon you will want to buy a telescope and see more! You will want to see far off galaxies and the rings of Saturn; watch the moons of Jupiter as they change position hourly. I did.
(PS this was during the last bout of loadshedding. Waiting for more! I’m sure it will come.)