On a clear night in August last year, my housemates found me flat on my back in the garden.
I was quite happy, I told them as I waved them away – I was enjoying the happy coincidence of the Perseid meteor shower occuring on one of the clearest nights of the year. (I tried explaining this to my housemates and failed, of course. I’m now officially eccentric.) Stargazing is a pastime I grew up with, fueled both by my father’s enthusiasm for the subject and the very-late-night BBC show The Sky At Night. This was also about the time I discovered coffee.
And I would have loved one of these. The Starlight Starscope is a modest planetarium in miniature, projecting the constellations onto a handy flat surface (such as the wall of a tent). I haven’t used one, but it looks like you dial your month of the year by twisting the end, and that month’s constellations are shown when you turn it on.
If there’s one way to feel how precious and fragile our tiny blue-green planet is, it’s to watch the stars wheel as the world turns on its axis. When I eventually settle down and have kids, I’ll be taking them for long trips away from the city lights, and encouraging them to squint through a telescope, and pointing them towards online astronomical resources such as the pupil-dilating beauty of the WorldWide Telescope project, and all the other forms of amateur astronomy that gave me such a sense of the wonder of Nature when I was a child.
Including – yes – lying in the garden, watching the stars.