September 1st: Re-discovering the Wonderment of the Night Sky

365daysDate: September 1, 2009

Title: Re-discovering the Wonderment of the Night Sky

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Podcaster: Mark DeVito

Link: www.stargazersfield.com

Description: I recently had a unique experience, perhaps even an epiphany. Over a long Labor Day weekend, my family and I traveled to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. While there, I had the opportunity to reconnect with the night sky through my daughter’s eyes.

Bio: I am an avid amateur astronomer with a keen interest in public outreach, teaching astronomy, and desperately trying to evolve my hobby closer and closer to the professional astronomy arena. My family and I, along with my growing observatory, live in Virginia.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the world’s leader in variable star data and information, bringing professional and amateur astronomers together to observe and analyze variable stars, and promoting research and education using variable star data. Visit the AAVSO on the web at www.aavso.org.

Transcript:

Hello and welcome. I’m Mark DeVito an amateur astronomer from Fredericksburg, Virginia in the U.S., and your host for the to the September 1st edition of the 365 Days of Astronomy. I invite you to stop by my website www.stargazersfield.com, that’s s-t-a-r-g-a-z-e-r-s-f-i-e-l-d.com to learn more about my hobby and to check out my blog. You can also follow me on Twitter under vastargazer. I chose today as my pod-cast date because it is a very special day, it is my son’s birthday. And, seeing as I am speaking to you about astronomy, children, and the wonders of the night sky it all seemed brilliant. Now while I have your ear, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge my wife for her support of my astronomy hobby and all the things she does for our family. Finally, I want to thank my very best friend, the late Jeff Medkeff, aka the Blue Collar Scientist, for his teaching, kindness, and friendship.

Now on with the podcast…

There is a point, for many amateur astronomers, where your interest and appreciation for the night sky can turn to an obsession. An obsession filled with equipment, data, theories, long nights in the cold or heat, mosquitoes, the ever-present battle against dew, and the woes of the astronomy widow or widower. But, sometimes, we have an experience that grounds us and returns us to a simpler time when we saw the night sky as purity, wonderment, and joy. A time when the night sky was best admired lying on a blanket in the backyard with siblings, friends, and fireflies or at camp.

I had an experience like this a while back; perhaps you could even call it an epiphany. Over the long Labor Day weekend last year, my family and I traveled to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. While there, I learned a valuable lesson from a most unlikely teacher, my 4-year-old daughter.

On a particularly clear evening, my in-laws stoked up the outdoor fireplace and we all gathered around to enjoy the evening, the friendship, and a few good drinks. With the exception of the firelight, there were no other lights in the adjacent homes. The Milky Way was bright overhead. So bright in fact you could almost reach up and touch it. We chatted and enjoyed the company and the night sky. So what made this experience different? In my lap sat my, 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. Ellie is a special person, and special in many ways. She is kind, affectionate, curious, and expressive. Ellie has one other special trait; Ellie was born with Down’s Syndrome. Despite her disability, and perhaps because of it, she is able to make deep meaningful connections with people, places, and experiences. As Ellie lay in my arms she looked up at the night sky with wide eyes. While she did this, the largest, brightest, and most joyful smile crossed her face and she repeated the sign for stars and Daddy over and over. I think it is important to note that Ellie is non-verbal, which means she does not speak yet. We are fortunate that she has done wonderfully learning American Sign Language by way of Signing Times DVDs.

As we stared at the night sky together, Ellie would point and frequently reach up as though trying to touch the stars. While she did this I would point to brighter objects and tell her their names and a little about them and sang her favorite lullaby, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, over and over as we signed it together. Staring at the night sky my view and interpretation seemed to change. Through Ellie’s eyes, the sky was no longer Messier objects, stars, constellations, or planets; it had become art, feelings, and connection. Despite the fact that Ellie did not know anything technical about the sky and that her communication was limited to signing, we shared a definite connection. Ellie knew the love her Dad has for the stars and she re-opened my eyes to a facet I had long ago forgotten. I don’t think I have ever felt such peace.

That night, I saw the night sky in a way we should never forget; beauty, wonderment, awe; only you can choose the adjective that fits your feelings. Soon, Ellie drifted off to sleep in the cool air, nestled in Daddy’s arms. As I experienced this utter tranquility, I had to ask myself who was more at peace, her or me. What thoughts and ideas went through her little mind as she took in the beauty of the night sky? Did she see the joy and peace on my face as I had seen on hers?

Whether you are an astronomer, or not, I strongly encourage you to seek out this reconnection to the night sky. So, the next clear night, step outside with your kids, your spouse, a friend, or just by yourself. Leave the optics, charts, and knowledge behind. Bring only child like wonderment. Perhaps the night sky will bring you joy, peace, romance, tranquility, or calm. The experience provided me with a new view of the night, a new hope for my daughter, and a new view for the next day and all the rest to follow.

I am confident there is a great deal the “special” members of our society, like Ellie, can teach us. If you are member of an astronomy club, I encourage you and your club to explore the possibilities of a star party for special needs children and adults. It just may be one of the most interesting and eye opening events you ever attend.

So thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the pod-cast. I leave you now with a little music from The Church and that you enjoy your evenings under the Milky Way every night.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.

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One Response to September 1st: Re-discovering the Wonderment of the Night Sky

  1. Stephen Berr September 3, 2009 at 9:54 pm #

    Beautifully expressed. I had the good fortune to teach astronomy and direct a school district planetarium for 30 years. I then sold portable planetariums until I fully retired at 71. I still show people the night sky, have parties for eclipses (last Feb lunar eclipse left me with pneumonia!) and in general try to share my passion with my grandchildren and others. You made me realize how important this is. Thank you for your passion and your eloquence. Ellie (and you) are lucky.

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