Summer Stargazing

Monday night, I took my son to a night of stargazing sponsored by our local library. Their summer reading theme is “A Universe of Stories,” using space to generate excitement about reading among kids. I think it’s working—Caleb keeps talking about the “Galaxy Glow Party” they’re going to have, which he’ll get to attend if he hits his reading goals. He and June even put on their own Galaxy Glow Party in their room in the dark.

As part of their activities, the library put together a night of observing at a local park, led by a park ranger who brought a large telescope and showed kids and adults how to navigate the night sky.

We arrived at 8:00 and waited patiently for the sun to go down. Well, I waited patiently. Caleb bounced all over the place when he wasn’t doing crafts.

As day became night, one of the organizers read two books about constellations. While the kids listened, I looked up, keeping my eye open for the first stars that would become visible. Before the stars came out, I saw a number of bats flitting through the evening sky overhead. I hoped they wouldn’t decide to swoop too low. Eventually I saw the first two stars. But something compelled me to keep on looking, even though the books weren’t finished and the stars would only be emerging gradually. I kept looking, directly overhead, and I swear to you that I saw a shooting star. I don’t recall ever seeing one that early in the evening before, and it was bright and clear. I pointed up, following its trail and hoping that someone else might catch it before it disappeared. If anybody else saw it, they didn’t say anything. In any event, I felt rewarded for my inattention to the book, and reinforced in my commitment to looking up more often than others.

As it got darker and the books wrapped up, the kids finished up their crafts and several of us adults compared our favorite apps for navigating the night sky (mine is SkyView Free). I looked for Jupiter, knowing it’s very bright in the evening sky right now. Walking a little bit away from our group, getting past a tree that was blocking the southern horizon, I spotted it. It was hard to miss, the brightest thing in the sky.

I’d brought my binoculars, and looked through them at our solar system’s largest planet. I could see not only the planet, but four of its moons, strung out in a diagonal line with Jupiter at it center. Four tiny, sharp points of light, two on the lower left side of Jupiter, two on the upper right side. I’d viewed them a couple of weeks earlier too, and was able to see that they had moved. I understood a bit of what Galileo must’ve felt when he first turned a telescope to the sky, found those moons, and discovered that they appeared to move around Jupiter.

“Caleb,” I said. “Come here. Look!” It was tough to hold the binoculars steady and aimed at Jupiter, but I did the best I could and asked Caleb if he could see it. “It’s that big bright star,” I said. “Can you see it in the binoculars?” After a while, he said “Yes! I see it!” I smiled, knowing that I was sharing something of my love of the universe with him.

When the sky got nice and dark, we went out into a clearing with two telescopes to look around. It was tough to get the telescopes pointed in the right direction, and the other kids were crowding around them, so Caleb and I just sat in chairs and looked for stars and constellations. We found Scorpio and the North Star, but The Big Dipper was his favorite.

Finally, I could tell Caleb was tired, and so was I. It was getting late, already well past his bedtime, so we said good-bye, thanked the organizers, and headed home. Caleb talked about constellations, and as usual asked a lot of questions, which I did my best to answer.

I’m grateful for our local library for doing what they can to instill a love of learning in the children of our community, and I’m all the more grateful that they’re doing it with space this summer. As I’ve said before, teaching our kids to wonder, learn, and be curious about the world around them is vitally important for their well-being and the future of the Christian faith.

Up next is Vacation Bible School in a few weeks, with a theme of To Mars and Beyond. I can’t wait for Caleb to tell me all about it.

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