Children & the Night Sky
After Sierra’s general meeting program the other night Andy, Jimmy, my 10-year-old friend Jack, and I were standing in the parking lot, gazing up at the sky, looking at the rare configuration of five planets all in the west. Jack and Andy were trying to figure out which one was Mercury.
The night sky. All of us have, on occasion, gazed at the silent beauty of stars strewn across the evening horizon. The beginning of wisdom is awe, not fear. As we are awed by the beauty and immensity of the night stars we connect with all those countless humans before us who also were mesmerized by the night sky. A number of scientists and philosophers have attributed their initial calling to a childhood experience of becoming enraptured with the panorama of stars on a clear, cold evening.
All civilizations have projected their own stories out into space and retrieved them back as mythology. We humans have found our divinities out there. The configurations in the sky have helped us form our stories of who we are and where we came from.
The vastness of space can be overwhelming. Astrophysicist, Carl Sagan: “We have examined the universe in space and seen that we live on a mote of dust circling a humdrum star in the remotest corner of an obscure galaxy.” Although we now know there are trillions of galaxies that make up the universe, science tells us that the vastness of space results in stars and galaxies being so far from each other they are mostly isolated. The nearest galaxies to us are the Magellanic Clouds – 150,000 light years away. Next is the
Andromeda Galaxy – two million light years out. These, it is hard to believe, are referred to as “the local group.” To peer up into the dark vast vault sprinkled with stardust stuns us with awe and excites a sense of wonder. Rachel Carson wrote about the need to evoke wonder in children:
“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world would be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against
the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
Thanks to Lisa Muehlstein, our children’s program that night was a great success. We heard both truth and tall tales about snakes and spiders we heard and saw a beautiful story about Pelican Pete the children got to create a simulated environment with construction materials. We were around children who are open to awe and wonder and around adults who know it is their responsibility to facilitate it.