Dark cold winter nights lack humid-heavy atmospheres and allow sharp sightings of the cosmos. Expert and amateur astronomers giddily set up telescopes to peer through to chart the skies. For hours. Seemingly unaware of their freezing fannies. And this gazing has been occurring for centuries, starting with the naked eye.
I get it. But I don’t freeze or chart. And the naked eye suits me fine for staring into the night sky. But did you know, smartphone apps can tell you what’s in the night sky?
With the app, you can aim your phone at the sky and your screen-view will match the sky. On the screen you can read about thousands of catalogued stars, galaxies, planets, and more, along with tidbits of information such as their travel route and speed. The phone app also tracks artificial satellites and the International Space Station. It’s simply amazing.
In 1997, I couldn’t sleep, one cold night in Washington state.
I layered coats over my pjs, plopped a hat on my head, and strapped farm boots on my feet before sneaking outside. Shep, our dog, was waiting for me.
Shep probably heard me tossing in bed and was wondering what took me so long to get outside. But off we went for a walk around the orchard.
Head down, I began trekking the forty-acre orchard border. Diligently watching the ground so I wouldn’t trip and fall while walking over tree shadows created by the moon.
On a knoll, the ground shadows disappeared, and I looked up. To see Hale-Bopp comet.
Now, an unforgotten experience of wonder and awe.
I’d read about the comet. It was discovered independently by two amateur astronomers, Alan Hale in New Mexico and Thomas Bopp in Arizona in 1995.
But what moved me so wonderfully?
The fact I quit stewing in bed and got into a better physical and mental mode? Our faithful dog? Or, that I could see something more than 120 million miles away? Or, the unimaginable stream of dust and gas released from the atmosphere around the comet affected by the sun’s radiation pressure? Nah.
Its wonder and awe itself. Moving us.
From Luke 2: 1-18
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.