It was supposed to be overcast both nights of my birthday present star gazing/camping weekend… so we decided not to bother bringing the telescope.
But boy, we were wrong about Friday night. It was perfectly, crisply clear, and Poe Valley has one of darkest skies in Pennsylvania, thanks to being shielded from light pollution by a few mountains. No moon too, which made it even darker. You can forget just how black night can be when you live in a place where they sky stays a murky gray even at 2am, thanks to the blazing lights of car dealerships and Walmart parking lots and two major highways and the city.
Our paths lit only by the light of other campers’ fires and a string of Christmas lights strung across an RV awning, we walked to the dam in almost total darkness. Already, I could see more stars between the trees than I can ever see at home. At some point in the indefinite past, that dam created the park’s signature lake from the babbling stream that originally dug the valley. Two enormous accomplishments for one little babbling brook that I could step across in places with only the assistance of a strategically-placed flat stone.
We climbed to to top of the dam, up several long flights of stairs. When we reached the top, the sky was wide open, a huge clearing made by the lake, ready-made for looking up.
For an hour, we stared up. Jupiter and Saturn blazed in the sky to my left, standing out brilliantly, even with exponentially more competition in the sky than usual.
(Here’s the best my cell phone could do with that darkness. Jupiter is in the center, with Saturn a bit to the left. Not sure what the others are—bits of Sagittarius maybe.)
Ursa Major was to my right, clear and crisp with just the bottom corner of its dipper ducking behind the mountain. We followed the line up from the Big Dipper to spot Ursa Minor, actually harder to pick out because of the extra stars concealing the pattern I can usually recognize in moments.
Cassiopeia stood out too, with its zigzagging, jagged W shape. Vega was overhead, and Polaris—the North Star—appeared behind me, not as brightly as you might guess, considering how it was historically used for way finding. But no, Polaris is used to guide, not by its brightness but by its steady location in the sky, no matter what time of year. The angle of the earth’s axis is very nearly aligned with Polaris, so even as we rotate and revolve around the sun, anyone in the Northern Hemisphere can find north by keeping their eye on the star that doesn’t move.
I’ve never seen the Milk Way so clearly as I did on Friday—a hazy gray stretching across the sky. A cloud to anyone who wouldn’t know better, except that it doesn’t obscure the stars… it hovers behind them. Among them.
And then a meteor! I lay down on the gravel and stared up, willing more to splice through the atmosphere. I was not disappointed. Another appeared a few minutes later. And another. Five in all, the very tail end of August’s Perseid meteor shower, I suppose. Three quick glowing streaks, caught out of the corner of my eye, and two blazing fireballs that lasted long enough for me to shift my gaze and watch them flame from white to yellow to nothing.
Invigorated, we walked back to our campsite to get the kids to bed, while I babbled about intelligent design, the physics of the universe, chaos theory, and the crazy amazingness of being loved personally by the same ridiculously vast God who spoke constellations and galaxies and nebulas into existence. The very same God who designed the color and pattern of mushrooms and gave caterpillars their fuzz and grew each of us from a single cell. The kids were ready and not even arguing as we tucked them into their sleeping bags, exhausted by our long day, the late hour, and probably the intensity of my marveling.
Once they were settled, I headed to the bath house to brush my teeth, and on my way back, Mars had risen high enough in the sky to peek through the trees, glowing orangey-pink between the branches. If it twinkles, it’s a star, you know. And if it’s solid and steady, it’s a planet.
I’ve never understood how people can believe in Jesus but struggle with the story of Creation. For me, that’s not the part of reality that boggles my mind.
I cannot fathom that the God who started the spin on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, who planned the paths of the rocks that would smash together and fling their pieces at the moon to create the amazing Tycho crater, who made Mars out of iron and then poured on enough oxygen to turn everything there to rust and then broke through its surface with the largest volcano in the solar system, who made black holes so enormous and monstrous and that Stephen Hawking made up the word “spaghettification” to describe what happens to things that get too close, who is still so much bigger and grander and than all of this…
…that HE would send a baby to be born into filth in Bethlehem. It’s comical, really. We chuckle about Bethlehem being a tiny town… but really, it’s much smaller even than that. It’s a tiny town in a tiny country on one of the smallest planets in our solar system that revolves around fairly inconsequential star that is one of a billion stars in the Milky Way, which is one of two trillion galaxies—most much bigger than ours—in a universe that we literally cannot find the end of.
That’s so, so much more unfathomable. So much more impossible.
That’s exactly what He did. He became a baby that would grow up to die for love. For the love of… us.
Yes, all of that from looking up at a black night sky.
Really, look up. Or look down into a microscope. It’s equally, insanely, masterfully designed in that direction too. We are without excuse, and, my goodness, who would want an excuse not to fall at the Feet that made all this.
And it wasn’t even difficult.
I have stars in my eyes. I hope you do too.