The universe the way we see it

Posted by David Eicher
on Thursday, January 18, 2007

Humans now live in a world of complete oversaturation. You see it everywhere you go. Everyone wants to drive faster, get places, do things, see people, make deals, move on down the road. We can't go anywhere without the latest cell phone, need 24/7 access to CNN and iPods and SIRIUS Radio, and God help us if we can't find the BlackBerry. We've culturally turned up the volume in the movies, on TV, in print, and everywhere else so that we're a culture of watchers of over-hyped sensationalism. We sit passively and react to the constant, overwhelming stream of stuff that gets crammed down our throats every day.

Those who are able to decouple from the fast lane of the information highway, just every once in a while, are really the lucky ones. For the sake of your own pacing and peace of mind, I encourage you to do it every once in a while. Get outside and take nothing with you but a pair of binoculars or your scope, a pad of paper, and a soft pencil. Go out into a dark sky — or at least a decent one. Really allow your eyes to adapt to the sky darkness for half an hour or more, to begin to open up your pupils. Unplug from the relentless, machine-gun lifestyle we all bring upon ourselves.

Choose an object in the sky. Maybe it's the Moon, perhaps Saturn, could be a galaxy like the one in Andromeda or as obscure as IC 2209. Draw a circle around the base of the coffee cup or can of Coke you've brought outside with you (some trace of civilization does need to follow you for survival's sake). In the circle, spend all the time you need to carefully draw what you see. First plot the outline of the object, the bright stars, then fill in the faint ones, then add any smudges you might need to show the galaxy's light. Gently smear it about with your finger or an eraser to achieve an approximate view of what you see in the eyepiece. Go slowly back and forth between the view and your drawing, and carefully change it around until it's just right. Take a whole lot of slow, progressive time.

After 20 or 30 minutes working on the sketch, drop the paper and look skyward. Just soak in the stars, planets, Milky Way, whatever's up. Now you've reset yourself. This is the cosmos — the latest Hollywood blockbuster or episode of The Office, great as they might be, are just smokescreens. This is reality. The rest, the CNN, the iPods, the SIRIUS Radio, are just time-fillers, not the substance. The substance is your realization of where you stand as a very tiny, though significant, part of the universe, and how the rest of the cosmos fills space enormously around you. Life is in the details, they say. But sometimes it's also in the big picture.

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