Eyes on the sky


By Rachel Chinchilla

Claudius Ptolemy, an ancient Greek geographer and astronomer, once wrote, “I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, I no longer touch the earth with my feet.”

What truth there is to this statement! Observing the night sky is a unique activity, one that instills within us a feeling of transcendence that makes us look past this brief moment in time that we live in. I would be surprised to find someone who has not once gazed upon the night sky and felt wonder or awe. 

Now that autumn is here, the air is clear of humidity, and the night sky appears brighter than ever. 

As inhabitants of Champaign-Urbana, we have the unique advantage of not living close to any major cities. In a quick, 15-minute bike ride or car drive you can travel far enough away from the light pollution of campus to see hundreds of celestial objects.

With classes, clubs, friends and jobs, students might find it hard to make time for the stargazing hobby. What these students may not realize is that this hobby can be greatly beneficial and worth making time in their schedules for.

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In fact, one advantage stargazing has over many other hobbies is that it doesn’t necessarily have to take away time from a busy schedule. Inviting friends to go with allows one to enjoy this hobby while still having a social life. 

Probing the night sky can inspire one to also probe their own ideas about the universe and our existence, and sharing these ideas with others is a bonding experience. It can be a romantic one, too. There are few moments more special than those spent opening up to someone about deep, profound thoughts and feelings you have while beholding the inexplicable beauty of the cosmos.

Learning the stories of the constellations can add to the enjoyment of stargazing. Extraordinary journeys and legends engage viewers and add a human element to the foreignness of celestial objects.

My favorite part of stargazing as a kid was when my dad would tell me the story of Cassiopeia. According to Greek mythology, Cassiopeia was the queen of Ethiopia, married to King Cepheus. She and her daughter, Andromeda, were beautiful beyond words, and, although Andromeda was humble, Cassiopeia was arrogant and vain. One day, she boasted that they were more beautiful than the sea nymphs, the Nereids. Poseidon punished Cassiopeia for her vanity, and cast her to hang in her throne in the sky, where half of the time she hangs upside down.

I’ve heard this story dozens of times, but every time I hear it again, I am reminded that throughout history, beauty has been recognized as only skin deep. The stories of the stars, thousands of years old, contain morals and values that withstand the test of time. Realizing that these stories are undying causes them and their morals to have a deeper impact on us than if we were told the morals alone. Their permanence imbeds their importance deeper into our minds.

Learning the stories behind the constellations is not the only benefit of stargazing. You can go out tonight to stargaze without much knowledge, and the experience would prove itself to be worthwhile. To countless individuals, stargazing is an activity that offers an enormous amount of stress relief.

We all know that being a student at the University isn’t easy. It’s demanding and stressful — and sometimes feeling overwhelmed or frustrated is unavoidable. There is no better way to relax than to stargaze. From the start, just getting away from campus is a relieving sensation. It helps one remember that there is a world outside of his or her studies. Life goes on no matter if you were accepted into a sorority or what grade you got on your exam.

Lying down in a quiet, dark place clears one’s head of the hustle and bustle that is a constant aspect of University life. In the dark, listening to the sound of the insects, the coolness of the night freshening both body and mind, one can escape the commotion that almost feels never-ending and, instead, feel the sturdiness of the Earth as it spins in its constant orbit around the sun.

The stars above, the galaxies and nebulas, planets and moons, the asteroids and comets and black holes and supernovas, are all there reminding us of how insignificant we are and how precious our short lives on this world really are. Remembering this can make our uncertainties and anxieties seem trivial. It can help us put our problems in perspective, and realize what really matters in life.

As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once said, “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

Rachel is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].