Archives for posts with tag: space

Growing up, I lived out in the country. The only light on warm summer nights came from lightning bugs. I never even heard the words “light pollution”. It was a special kind of paradise, though I didn’t realized it until I grew up, moved away, and looked up into a field of darkness overhead. It was as if the familiar blanket of stars had been covered by a blackout curtain from WWII. Only this one was so all encompassing that it blotted out the entire sky.

Memories of a completely unobstructed night sky are with me still, vivid and personal. From the time when I had grown enough to be outside by myself, chasing butterflies by day and lightning bugs by night only to marvel at their wonders, I would often come to a halt in the driveway, where a big patch of night sky was unobstructed by trees, stand still, look up, and up and up.

I wouldn’t discover science fiction for several more years. Much more time would pass before I even thought of writing…anything. Even so, I was drawn to the stars. Instinctively, I felt a kinship. A sense of belonging to something beyond my house, the farm it was connected to, the greater wide world of continents and oceans. Even the big, blue daytime sky. There was up, and up, higher, higher still, and then there were stars. Oddly, I’ve always been aware of all of that up, up, higher, highest nature of the sky. Even in full daylight, I knew there was more I couldn’t see, but that patience would bring back to me when the sun disappeared and blue turned to black. 

Unfettered starlight seemed like magic to a little child. On a clear night, the entire field of vision available to an up turned face is sprinkled with light that appears along a range from dust to nearly opaque white swaths. Maturity brings with it the understanding that the most dense parts are what we can see of our own Milky Way. Imagine…the miraculous naked human eye can perceive the edge of our galaxy, though our minds can hardly take it in. Glorious is a word I learned to use early in life, just from the simple act of looking skyward.

Though I’m in a place less isolated now, I still find myself pausing after getting out of the car at night. Remembering those childhood hours spent standing still, tilting back my head…staring and staring, drinking in my fill of the knowledge that I was watching outer space, filled with wonder and awe, again I pause to stand beneath the black and silver and gold of the heavens. 

It’s different here, but a dedicated dreamer can use a hand to block out an interfering streetlight and see as much as there is available. Much of the Milky way is lost to me, but Orion is with me still. I’ve seen comets and the occasional meteor. There is enough of vast star filled space to thrill me and rekindle the particular sense of awe borne only of staring long and hard and deeply into the star sprinkled darkness that’s always above us, even when our own personal star shines so brightly that no other light can compete.

I started thinking about those childhood nights of stargazing accompanied only by the sound of my own breathing and the rustle of wind through cornstalks, when I came across this awesome article that gives the best, and certainly most eloquent, directions for stargazing I’ve ever seen. I wanted to share it, so it may help others looking skyward find their way through the outer reaches of our home.

​Rare eye conditions make me more cautious than most about what I look at and how I do it. Which means I would have gone into my yard or looked out a window on Monday to see the day dim and darkness fall.

Except for the presence of my also rare best friend in my life. 

She insisted we experience the eclipse together, drove hundreds of miles to make it happen, and gave me a running commentary as near totality progressed.

We traveled an hour and a half from my home to a place within the eclipse path, yet not quite in totality. Though we expected total, or near total darkness, the extreme twilight we experienced was something very special in its own right.

Even as a creative writer, I can’t adequately describe those thrilling moments. It was, of course, a visual experience, where everything turned a gloomy, eerie grayish, bluey…unnatural other. It was almost like a brand new type of photographic filter had been placed over the sun. 

We expected a 360 degree sunset and felt a bit disappointed when full light eased back onto the world without pitch dark occurring, yet the all around twilight that ringed the horizon was impressive in its own right. At one point I tried to lift my sunglasses to see how dim it really was, then was reminded by the way they felt that I had already switched to my regular glasses.

The most impressive aspect of that phase was the way we felt during the time of very dim light. A few words come close to describing it–eerie, othery…wrong.

There was an element of disorientation that makes me, as a science loving layman, wonder if there is a physical layer of our relationship with our star that we can’t​ be aware of when it’s shining brightly upon us. We felt perfectly normal again, after those precious seconds passed, but the memory of so brief a time will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Since I reluctantly gave up the opportunity to watch the sun, even through eclipse glasses, my friend gave me a running commentary of what she was seeing. That was the next best thing and gave me a remarkable experience I would otherwise have missed.

As I waited for darkness that didn’t quite fall, eager to see stars come out during the day, I got my wish in a more minor way. One bright, bright star appeared, then another. Stars shining brightly in daytime is awe inspiring, even when they are two. 

This was not like when the moon comes out at normal twilight and Venus is nearby…a tiny white dot against the blue of the sky. The eclipse stars were bigger and brighter than any I’ve ever seen. 

If ever there was a time to wish upon a star, eclipse day was the one. 

The biggest and brightest rode the faded sky near a big puffy cumulus cloud, making me think of the DreamWorks logo.

Something else that made the eclipse extra special was that we were in a McDonald’s parking lot. The store closed for a half hour for the experience, and the young employees were extremely excited about it. 

They gathered a few cars from us and when totality hit they cheered as if the home team had scored a touchdown, which made it more of an event. The area we chose had a few small groups scattered about, watching with muted awe. Families, individuals, and at least one obvious pair of grandparents, ushering grandchildren into the world of science and astronomy and our remarkable universe. 

Since I’m also extremely sensitive to heat, I was worried about traffic logjams. There were a lot of dire, appocalyptic gridlock warnings ahead of time that put the fear of Henry Ford in me. 

When the eclipse was over, we immediately headed toward home, with a stop for a late lunch along the way. The hour drive to the restaurant was fine. There was a bit more traffic, but nothing I wasn’t used to driving during normal rush hour. 

Then we tried to leave after we ate. Uh. No. I had to get us across just one of the three oddly configured lanes, but it proved to be a mini ordeal. A four way stop was funneling  suddenly expanded traffic into that one crucial lane and timing it so there was never quite enough room to slip between cars. Eventually, a slightly larger gap appeared to allow just enough time to get on the road again.

As we looped around to head home we passed the highway we’d come in on and there was the near gridlock I’d been concerned about. It looked as if it could soon become a total travel nightmare, and I thanked my lucky literal stars from earlier in the day that we’d left right after the eclipse. It enabled us to say we experienced the full total eclipse package, but with the traffic nightmare aspect from a tiny distance.

So you never know what real friendship may bring into your life. Because of her I was able to experience the 2017 eclipse in a richer and more unforgettable way than I would have on my own…on the day two stars came out for two friends who love the night sky and witnessed that night sky come briefly into an amazing day.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/08/22/ten-surprises-for-scientists-and-skywatchers-during-the-total-solar-eclipse/#3dedb8bc2ba6

This. Right here, in the guise of a simple web link, we have what all of geekdom has been bating breath in preparation of for what seems like eons. Well, what may actually be eons from the other end, depending on how long lived or even still living the potential alien folks in a solar system far, far away may be. We know nothing about them. We know not if there actually is…er, are, a them, yet the space hungry version of Pavlov’s dog is salivating the instant this particular bell is clanged.

Personally, I’m of two minds about the whole thing. While my science revering, space loving, science fiction writing side is right up there in the stands, cheering its little heart out, the side that both loves and freaks out over the old TV series Alien Nation would be a lot happier if Stephen Hawking hadn’t decided to voice the resounding voice of reason by telling us not to call ET back. After all, the pop culture tinged concept of alien overlords gets a whole lot less Alien Nationy, when it comes in riding the what iffing coattails of a real life alien signal. It gets real life real and not a little scary.

Even if this one doesn’t bring us a singing telegram from the stars, it serves as a hair-standing-on-end reminder that someday there may be profound decisions to be made about just how discoverable we should be. Isolationists? Arms open wide? I’m not sure. Probably somewhere in between would be best, but as a group we Earthlings aren’t really known for our restraint. Still, even the futility of resistance in a worst case scenario would spark the one thing no alien visitors could ever be prepared to face…the human spirit.

This fact filled article about the impressive plan to explore Alpha Centauri that’s been hitting all the major news outlets is pretty darned intriguing. It involves tiny probes about the size of iPhones that could travel to our nearest space neighbor, look around, and send home information. It would take a long time, of course, but advances in miniaturization in particular make what seemed impossible not so long ago into a technically feasible ambition. The fact that Stephen Hawking is involved makes the whole prospect even more exciting. It’s the stuff of dreams, and science fiction, and a scientific reality we’re all privileged to witness unfolding its wings. Quite literally.

I’ve mentioned before how articles about some aspect of technological advances and scientific facts spark ideas for stories and screenplays. Sometimes actual details become the genesis of ideas. Other times I see something that sends my brain off on a sideways extrapolation adventure.

This article detailing amazing facts about the human body just set off my brain like a Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. Not that I get immediate plots and characters from something like this, but I certainly bookmark it for further contemplation and future reference.

Beyond all that there’s fascinating information from one fact to the next. For instance, I love that we are, due to the magic of our very existence, made of stardust. How cool that a fuzzy spot in the constellation Andromeda is the farthest to be seen with the naked eye, giving mere human beings the ability to actually witness history on such a massive scale that we cannot truly comprehend. I now understand why my blood is red and that my appendix isn’t as useless as I’d been led to believe. Any of that and more may work its way through my brain whether I’m awake or asleep, and feed me something fun to write. Or it all may just take up residence in my subconscious, to occasionally ponder and marvel over.

Except the part about eyelash mites. I could have quite happily gone on forever without even knowing that one. And, no, I don’t expect any Mighty Eyelash Mite stories to begin lurking inside my creativity, waiting to emerge and become the latest action movie franchise. Somehow, I can’t put my finger on a spin that would give that particular super hero box office appeal. Unless…maybe The Avengers would assemble to fight such a fearsome foe…nah…Loki would never sit still for that!

*Sidenote: I found this Guardian News article by following a link tweeted by Tom Hiddleston, aka Loki….

Watch Loki Taunt Nick Fury in this clip from The Avengers

Articles like this are a word-filled goldmine for me. Immediately following that bold statement comes my confession that in no way do I understand a large portion of it. I start reading, and soon detect imminent brain implosion.

While I am endlessly fascinated by science, I have no delusions of being a scientist. That’s why what I love to read and write is called science fiction. Science fiction is born out of real life scientific discoveries, prototypes, and ideas extrapolated into future permutation– The reality is that it’s a way fun game of what if, triggered by whatever may be a budding reality or mere gleam in the minds of people with great big brains.

Nobody ever told me how to do it. Somewhere along the way my brain started thinking extrapolation was what it wants most to do. Honestly, I think it comes easiest to worriers. Let’s face it. Worrying is the ultimate, inherent game of what if. Chicken Little taught it to us as children. What if the sky falls? What if that impertinent asteroid decides to hit us in February? What if we have a secret colony of monkey astronauts on the moon poised to shoot it off its expected orbit with bananas gnawed into delicious pointy salvation missles? Anything is possible with enough imagination and a goofy sense of humor.

So I read stuff and watch stuff and absorb stuff. If I don’t understand every nuance of the science, I get the gist. Several things in this article leapt out at my particular imagination, my sense of humor, and the rubbery, expandable corner of my mind where worry lives.

–The first was the term “propellantless propulsion”. I understand what it means, but it made me laugh. It sounds like something Professor Farnsworth would say on Futurama. One of those nonsensical terms he tosses out like a too skinny Robot Santa from an Xmas parade float.

–The idea of solar sails is fascinating. I first encountered it in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, involving a father and son journey powered by solar sail. The conceptualization was beautiful, as was the bonding experience. There is no reason ships that sail the depths of space cannot be things of beauty. Just as there’s no reason mere concepts cannot be realized, given enough time, imagination, and technological advancement.

–Continuing the Star Trek theme, I am intrigued by the idea that this solar sail launch would carry some of the cremated remains of The Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Gene Roddenberry, and his wife Majel Roddenberry. As a long time admirer of their work, I think it’s incredibly touching that technology has advanced to a point that it can actually take them boldly into space. Not many of us can follow our dreams quite so literally.

–And the idea that solar sails may someday be able to help warn us of dangerous near earth objects is reassuring. Just because scientists are certain the upcoming encounter will be but a near miss does not mean they all will be. It seems to me that events like the one depicted in the movie Deep Impact are inevitable, over the long course of earth’s history. I feel better knowing that technological advances are constantly finding ways to keep the sky from literally falling another day.

So from this one article I got an unintended laugh, a bit of relief from the minor worry that distant objects we don’t even know exist may have us in their sights, information about new and improved upon scientific discoveries and advancements that may find its way into my fiction and my dreams, and a reminder that reaching for the stars is never foolish. Even death can’t keep the boldest dreamers tethered to the earth at their feet.

Last night I came across Grey’s Anatomy just in time to see Owen looking up at a night sky full of stars. My DVR will fill in the rest, but in the meantime I’ve been thinking about those stars.

I was reminded that city lights obscure that sight for millions of people. Their entire lives. It’s hard for me to even imagine a lifetime spent in the absence of starlight. I grew up in an isolated area, where the concept of light pollution was as foreign as the depths of the oceans. Yes, I was landlocked, but I had all of space that was visible from my little corner of the Northern Hemisphere above my head on every clear night in which to swim.

I’ve traveled a lot, so I’ve had the opportunity to see the night sky over England and France, Canada and American Samoa, even the Southern Cross over Australia. I stargazed from a cliff high above the Pacific along the windward side on Oahu. The water off that coastline is unusually deep to be so close to shore. So deep in fact that humpbacks sometimes breach there, gifting a fortunate few with an up close display of marine wonder. One night a man had a telescope up there, and generously offered fellow stargazers a peek at Saturn. I stood there, barely breathing, taking in the ring graced beauty of a world hanging there in space such  unimaginable distance away. No whale breached for me that night, but I never forgot the even greater impact of the sight of Saturn, its bright rings pulled near for a moment out of the magnificent night sky.

Still, nothing quite compares to the night sky of my childhood. I didn’t realize then what a privilege it was to have those stars in their familiar constellations visible over my head any time I chose to go outside and look upward in the dark. I took that great black velvet blanket, sprinkled with its brilliant points of light, for granted.

It never occurred to me that there were people all over our world who lived entire lifetimes with that marvelous wide open window to the heavens obscured by the pale, poor imitation of man made light. I never could have imagined that even many of those with the opportunity to gaze upward with wonder went about the mundane business of their lives oblivious. All the stars in the sky waiting to be seen for the simple price of lifting their heads…lost to a field of vision narrowed down to the here, the now, the act of watching their own feet wearing paths into the dirt of a single planet.

Maybe I was just a weird little kid. I certainly didn’t know anyone else, old or young, who went outside to stand in their driveway, rough, sharp gravel cutting into bare feet, and tilt their head so far back that space and time and place all blurred together. I can still remember so vividly the disorienting feeling when up and down just barely lost their relevance. It was as if up and down blended with out there, until everything was a field of vision that was a field of stars. Certain angles, certain moments…it felt almost as if I fell…upward…outward…into the mysterious depths of space itself.

Yes, maybe I was just a weird little kid, overly endowed with a sense of wonder and fascinated by concepts too big for my brain, grappling with ideas and mysteries and awe that have baffled the greatest minds of earth’s collective history. Even so, I was a weird little kid with big questions and bigger dreams.

For me that defines who I was then, and who I am now. Only now that the little kid has grown up there’s a name for it:

Science fiction writer.