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Stars in my Eyes


Have you ever seen the stars? I guess that most of you would probably answer "Of course!" to this question, but I wonder if you really have ...

When I was a young elementary school student, I was quite interested in the stars, and in astronomy in general. Besides studying the names of the constellations, I learned everything I could about the planets and other 'heavenly bodies'. It was impossible for me to afford to buy a telescope, but I did take some courses offered by a local planetarium.

One thing about astronomy always puzzled me very much. I knew that modern astronomers used powerful telescopes and complex computers to do their work, and I could never understand how people in ancient times were able to know so much about the heavens, without having access to such special tools. We have all read about people in prehistoric civilizations who built temples lined up with the spring solstice, or who could predict the next eclipse, and so on. As it is obviously so difficult to study the stars, the planets, and their movements, how could they learn these things?

I found the answer to this question one fine autumn day, about ten years ago. When I lived back in Canada, my job involved travelling to many different places, and one day I visited a small town in the far northern part of the country, up near the Arctic Circle. After the business of the day was done, and dinner was over, my host asked me, "Would you like to see the stars?" He drove me to a little 'scenic lookout' spot, away from the town. He turned off the car lights, and we stepped out into the chilly air, into ... a cathedral! That's the only word I can think of to describe the sensation of standing under that incredible arctic sky. Stars! Up until that moment, I hadn't known what the word meant. Stars ... billions upon billions of stars, of every possible level of brightness.

A huge glowing white splash across the sky marked the course of the Milky Way, and now I understood that name too. Have you ever stood on that hill at Hakodate, and looked down at the city lights? This was far, far more spectacular than even that 'million dollar' view.

And at once, it was obvious to me why those ancients were so interested in the sky, and so skilled at 'reading' it. So interested in the stars, planets, comets, and eclipses. This glorious panorama must have been a daily event for them before city lights, car exhausts, and factory smoke came along to destroy it for most of us. They needed no special telescopes to experience this. Just their own eyes. Astronomical events such as the progression of the seasons were written clearly right there in the sky for anyone to read. Watching the varied workings of this astonishing display must have been the instigation of mankind's thinking about mathematics, of science, and of man himself and his own place in the universe. It was the beginning of our climb ... To these stars, how much we owe ...

And we have destroyed this 'cathedral'. Or rather, have exchanged it - for our modern cities, with their buildings, and roads, and ... lights. I suppose it has been a worthwhile exchange. I for one, would not like to live in a dark hut like my ancestors did thousands of years ago. But it would be nice to think that someday we may learn how to organize a society in which we could enjoy modern conveniences, but still live in such a way that each one of us grew up aware of this vast cathedral in which we live. Perhaps we would then understand our place in the universe just a little bit better.

Let me now ask you again ... Have you ever seen the stars?