Thursday, August 12

Starry, Starry Nights

Fern Glen Inn •

There are many things I love about living here: the fresh air, the abundant greenery, the uncongested roads, the plethora of outdoor adventures within easy reach. These are all things I would long for when we lived in the city, and savour sweetly on our brief escapes "up north". But perhaps what I relished the most—and still thrill to—are the dark, star-filled skies.

Away from the light pollution of cities, towns and highways, we are treated to a spectacular show of stars, planets and other celestial eye candy. And it's available year-round!

In summer, the Milky Way spills across the sky from the north-east to the south-west. The moderate temperature means you can get comfortable and star-gaze long into the night.

In the winter, there is perhaps less to see, and you can't really spend hours at a time watching, but the cold air makes for incredibly clear viewing. Plus, since the winter sun sets so early, you don't have to stay up late to get a good look at the heavens. We sometimes see a halo around the moon, which is caused by ice crystals high up in the atmosphere.

August, though, is perhaps my favourite time for star-gazing. The Perseid meteor shower starts in late July and reaches its peak in mid-August, around the 11th to 13th of the month. Known as the Perseid shower because the meteors appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus, it's actually made up of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Some years are better than others for viewing, with a good year offering around 100 meteors per hour. That's a lot of wishes! If the sky is free of clouds and moon, we can see so many shooting star we lose count!

For watching meteor showers, get yourself away from light pollution. Time your gazing for the darkest hours possible. Some year's we've set our alarm clock to get up in the wee hours after the moon had set. Have a chair or blanket and get in as horizontal a position as you can to avoid neck strain. Dress warm as even summer nights can be chilly. And then hope for clear, cloudless weather.

Learn more meteor shower viewing tips and the 2014 schedule of meteor showers.

Of course, you don't need a meteor shower, fancy equipment, or any kind of astronomical knowledge to appreciate a starry sky. As long as humans have been peering upwards, we've been enthralled, awed and inspired by the majesty and mystery above. 

Lying outside on a moonless night, the sky an infinite dome above, I somehow feel both small and immortal, a minuscule part of a grand, unfolding narrative.

The vastness of the universe stretched out before us has a way of putting things in perspective. It reminds us not to take our lives so seriously, reminds us that our own time here is brief. That if we don't make the most of it now, when will we? For Jim and I, we'll make good use of our time this week by spending some of it under the night sky, casting wishes at shooting stars.

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Thank you to our guests Bryan and Jessica for sending us the photos above, which were taken in our back lawn. They used a long exposure on their camera and a software program to rotate their tripod in time with the rotation of the planet in order to capture the detail of the night sky without motion streaks.

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