Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eyewitness Testimony: the Milky Way

"A Dark Sky over Death Valley" by Dan Duriscoe, U.S. National Park Service, which appeared on theAstronomy Picture of the Day site in May. I had somehow missed this image until it was linked by Creek Running North reader "embee" in Chris Clarke's Milky Way post comments.

Gifted and talented Chris Clarke runs Creek Running North, a blog mostly about what we oldsters used to call "natural history." CRN has a very large readership; it's not unusual for his posts to have a dozen comments from different people -- most of whom appear to be very smart, indeed -- within just two or three hours of an article's appearance.

As you might imagine, I was tickled, flattered, and honored when a quote from yours truly started this recent post on CRN about the Milky Way and its place in the readership's memories. Several dozen readers have already left their reminiscences (which make great reading), and I think each and every one of SherWord's seven readers could add valuable memories to the comments stream as well.

Please do!


Mike said...

For those who are not Sherwood or Brian Fies, they acted as my mentors on an astronomy project last year (www.storiesinthestars.com) In one chapter, I casually mentioned the Milky Way and one of them, maybe both, replied that there aren't a lot of people who get to see it. I was stunned. It was like saying that people don't get to see Venus. Growing up country, the Milky Way was just up there -- some nights yes, some nights no, but you didn't have to look for it. I particularly remember seeing it when I was in high school and would be walking home at night. But, yes, mostly on those nights I would cut through unlit backways rather than sticking to the streets with streetlights.

And then I realized that the years I lived in cities, I had kids, I had obligations and I wasn't looking up. Now I'm back in the country and it's just me and the dogs, living in a farmhouse far from any streetlights, and nights when I'm out covering meetings, or sometimes when I am just giving them their last outs for the night, I look up and, sure enough, there it is. I'm sorry for the light pollution that hides it from people and makes it such a rarity in their world, because it really is awesome ... in the original meaning of that word.

Brian Fies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Fies said...

Reposting to fix a mistake:

My Milky Way story's not particularly unique or interesting, but I'll never forget a night in the Sierra Nevada when I was in my teens. The sky was so dark, the stars so bright, and the Milky Way such a fiery ribbon that it was *scary.* I couldn't find any of the constellations I knew very well because the brightest stars were swamped with thousands of slightly dimmer stars I usually couldn't see. It was awesomely disorienting.

When Cygnus or Scorpius are up, I can almost always find the Milky Way. Likewise, when Andromeda's up, I can usually see the Great Galaxy. However, I sometimes wonder if I'm really seeing them or if I just think I'm imagining fuzzy glows where I know them to be.

Some say that Copernicus never saw Mercury. I find that hard to believe--it's not that difficult or rare--unless, like most people, he just never bothered to look. Always thought that was a weird one though....