January 20, 2019. The night of the super wolf blood moon, which is a highly sensationalist way of saying that the Earth came between its satellite and the solar light, casting it in shadow. I don’t always do astrophotography — I don’t really have the right sort of a camera, or any sort of a telescope. What I do have is a tripod and a shitty old digital camera I got used on Amazon, and that camera happens to have 20x optical zoom. So, you know, I don’t always do astrophotography, but when I do, I’m taking pictures of the moon. And last night I got a bountiful opportunity in the form of a total lunar eclipse and a clear (if frigid) sky. My camera, as I said, isn’t terribly good, but it at least beats the naked eye, which is how I ended up on top of the parking deck at the corner of Washington and Greene at midnight in below-freezing temperatures. I’ve always been fascinated by the heavens, ever since I was little. There’s something indelibly human about looking up at the night sky and being filled with a sense of cosmic wonder. Those stars connect us to a universe more vast and strange than any of us can imagine, and, ultimately, as Carl Sagan once said, “we are made of star stuff”.
It has been said that psychology and neurology are the brain attempting to understand itself. So too are the disciplines of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and even stargazing the universe’s attempt to understand itself. One is reminded of the seminal novel by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, wherein a group of cosmic, interdimensional beings are revealed to have made the Earth as a supercomputer with the aim of calculating the question (not the answer, they have that already), the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. While Adams’s work is science fiction, I’ve always been of the mindset that there’s a certain poetry there. We don’t really come up with answers when we look up at the sky, but oh, do we ever come up with questions. Who are we? Are we alone? What is our place in all of this? When I look up into the sky, I have to wonder, as I look up, if anybody is looking down, and if they’re wondering the same things that I am.
But anyway, back to the Moon. Our ever-present companion in the solar waltz. I look at the Moon and it’s a small wonder that many ancient peoples called her a goddess (or a god, depending on where you happened to look up into the night sky). More importantly, I look up at the Moon and I’m reminded of how much more is out there and how small we are down here. The problems we face down on Terra can seem horrible and insurmountable, and I have no intention of downplaying their severity, but when I look at our nocturnal lamp, I cannot help but to be filled with hope. My great weakness is that in spite of it all, no matter how much horror I see, I remain a shameless optimist that things can and will be better. Maybe someday we’ll find ourselves, or at least other people (even if they are unlike ourselves), up there staring back down, and the mundane troubles that overwhelm us will fall away like rain and look like petty squabbles. Surely we will also find new and more harrowing troubles up there, too, but I’m sure we’ll find hope as well. So long as we keep looking up. After all, “we are made of star stuff”.