The heavens

Although I don’t have a deep interest in astrophotography I’ve always had a fascination with the photographic technique used to capture star trails. The allure, I suppose, is that they are tricky to record. Rather than turning your camera to Auto and clicking away, there are quite a few things one has to think about before successfully recording one of these shots. The most important things to be considered are the weather and the phase of the moon. The best captures may be had on a clear night of the new moon. I’ve got a useful piece of software, that I highly recommend, called The Photographer’s Ephemeris. While it won’t predict the weather, it will tell me much about the phase of the moon, the time of moon rise and moon set, and the relative positions of each to my location here at the farm. I first thought I’d like to experiment with star trails after seeing a short video posted by Tony Northrup. Since then I’ve watched the weather and the moon, closely. It wasn’t until this past Thursday that our local forecasters made specific mention of the cool temperatures and clear over-night conditions that they were expecting. I checked the Ephemeris and, sure enough, the new moon was two days out and on this particular night the moon would be a waning crescent of 7.9%. There was rain in the forecast for the weekend so I set my alarm for 3 AM. Because I hadn’t attempted to photograph the night sky before, I decided to go with a simple plan to capture a shot of the Milky Way. I had fun and I hope you enjoy the result. Yesterday’s moon was a 3.5% crescent and the new moon will occur tonight. I was pretty darn tired yesterday and am guessing that the predicted weather front will be here this afternoon. I’ll cross my fingers for clear skies on August 25, or September 24, or October 23. Joanna always says, patience and perseverance, and she is right. I’ll get those star trails. Eventually.

On a completely different matter, if one isn’t an astrophysicist or a cosmologist (or I suppose, even if one is) images such as the one I present below are supposed to get us thinking about space, time, the heavens, heaven, and perhaps even about religion and all-things-spiritual. Whether you derive comfort from the concept of heaven or from thinking about infinity, stellar evolution, galaxies, and alternate universes is of no matter. What I want to report is that looking into the sky the other night made me pause, for these last days have been difficult, especially after hearing about the untimely passing of a good friend. There will be a funeral for him tomorrow. Although I am grateful for not having to attend many funerals in the recent past, the reverse of that coin is that I haven’t had a lot of practice at funerals. I’m always uncomfortable and uncertain about what to say and do. It bothers me to think that whatever I say may sound forced and perhaps even trite. In a post from 2012 I talked about the Mind Meld. If this is something with which you are unfamiliar, a Mind Meld is a (fictional) technique for sharing thoughts, and memories with another individual. It is a form of telepathy. My point is this; I wish I could express my thoughts about my friend’s passing without having to speak, for I know I will do that badly. I wish that I could perform a Mind Meld with each member of his family. If I could, they would then know that I admired my friend. I admired his strength (both physical and emotional), his skills and accomplishments, and his strong character. If I could, they would then know that his passing has affected me in perhaps more ways than I am currently aware. And, if I could, they would then know that I am still having difficulty thinking about this world without him.

15 thoughts on “The heavens

  1. I am sorry that I missed this post. I am sorry that I missed the opportunity, then, to say that you are very astute to note the inadequacy of words. We never really do anything with them but scratch the surface. And, I am sorry you lost a friend you admire.

    • Do you know of the Vulcan Mind Meld? If so, I think you will agree that that is the only real way of conveying thoughts and feelings – completely! If only it weren’t fictitious.

      • I do know about the Vulcans! I think the Mind Meld was my first introduction to thinking about psychology … maybe that’s where the interest arose for me!

  2. The images remind me very much of some of my favorite science books I read as a teenager. I was an avid hobby astronomer and knew the names of all the main stars and constellations by heart, and I built something like a makeshift telescope tripod from wood and metal clamps.

    I agree that stars and galaxies invoke many different trains of throughts not science-related. As for funerals, I don’t like them – I mean not only because somebody I knew has died, that is obvious, but I don’t like all the creepy traditions at all. I personally could very much do without any ritual involving any sort of church, and without post-funeral receptions. Actually without most of the other people there, to be honest. The experts say rituals are important for being able to cope with something inevitable, close one door forever and realize what has happened etc.

    Seems plausible but what if the only ritual I would really like to perform was to think about the deceased person _alone_ (probably looking at the stars…) without having to meet nosy distant relatives or “friends” (even less “friends” than the social networking variety) for whom the whole thing is more like a big familiy reunion party? I always felt the same – no matter if it was the funeral of a distant acquaintance or a close relative.

    But maybe you do better in the US – we Austrians (and especially people from Vienna) are said to have a particularly morbid affection to death and all related rituals.

    • Thanks for you observations on religion and ritual … our opinions see to run along parallel lines. I particularly loved one line which I read to Joanna, and we both had a good laugh … ‘I don’t like all the creepy traditions …’. Thanks for your time and your honesty. D

  3. I’ve yet to try stars so am impressed with your shots. I prefer these over star trails although a few meteorites flying across the sky are always enjoyable. You are feeling what the vast majority of us experience when confronted with trying to say something meaningful at a funeral or memorial service. Personally, I think the only wrong thing to say is, “I know what you are feeling” or something similar. An honest expression of sorrow for another’s loss seems the best way to go.

    • Hey there Steve, thanks for the thumbs-up with regard to the shots of the Milky Way. To tell the truth I had few expectations and must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Thanks also for the good advice concerning the funeral, for good advice is was. J and I just arrived back home. Although it was mighty warm in the small historic church at which the service was held, we managed to do OK and even I managed to make it through the receiving line with my head held high. D

  4. I love what you’ve done. It’s nice to be reminded that we all share the night sky and whether in PA or NL what you see is more or less what I see. And yes, that sense of awe. Almost five and a half decades existence have served only to increase the feeling I get whenever I look up on a good night or look out on a landscape or seascape. I know that there are good solid rational reasons for awe that are tied to survivability at the species level but I don’t mind admitting that for this one at least I am happy to suspend my rational judgement and see that it as a “gift” to be treasured. You touched on death, something that’s often on my mind. As I increase in age, so, too, does the probability that any of my circle of friends and family will be affected by it. I must admit to being troubled by our society’s current, sterile, attitude towards it. As someone else remarked, “It’s like we treat death as a lifestyle choice that … may not be for me.” As such we treat the dead as objects of art, dress them up and add makeup and then surround them by finery, but always ensure that everyone keeps their distance, both physically and emotionally. We use coffins to separate them from us (which we now call caskets) and sometimes we don’t even bring the body into our presence. We say “passed” as if that takes away the permanence and bluntness of “death”. But still it happens to us all and ignoring so vital a process lessens our humanity. For my part whenever I attend funerals or wakes I spend some time putting together in my mind what I think that person meant to me and to others and then make a point of relating a story or a lesson learned from that person. It’s how I remind myself of how precious each life is and, more importantly, how co-dependent we all really are. Enjoyed your post and pictures, as always.

    • Thanks for the observations and supportive comments Maurice. J and I made it home from the funeral last evening in good shape, if not a bit over-heated. It was a very warm day; the venue was a beautiful and historic church which, however, was only cooled by opened windows and cross-ventilation. You’ll be glad to know that I made it through the receiving line, believing that I had been able to communicate something useful to and supportive of the bereaved. Services of the sort we heard always leave me thinking, in very much the way you described, of anecdotes of the friend who has been lost and also about the service itself. Somehow the words spoke strike me as being more about the place of worship and the larger religious community rather than the life I thought we had all gathered to remember. Such gatherings get me to think deeply about the meaning and value of religion. Deeply indeed. D

      • Religion always cuts both ways. Everyone can take what they want from it, of course, but I can say that the rituals associated with major life events, especially marriage and death, do bring comfort and sensibility to our lives. Besides that, when whatever brand we are looking at focuses on social justice then that’s good too. But, to be blunt, when the preacher chooses to use the public gathering as an opportunity to make a sales pitch then I admit to being nothing but just plain put off, as you were.

        • ‘Put off’ is not too harsh a word … it’s just not the right word. Because I can’t ‘buy into’ what they’re saying, or selling, intellectually, I am … I suppose … to choose my word very carefully … disappointed. D

  5. Three in the morning? Yikes! Did you go for your DD run after that? I woke up at six with June. That was early enough for Nana! I remember the post which mentioned the Mind Meld! I particularly like the first image. Like something seen out of the window of the Starship Enterprise! I loved that series! In response to your worrying about saying something trite at the funeral, just be yourself. People always appreciate whatever you might have to say.

    • Hey … is this ‘the’ Tony Northrup? Whow! I’m guessing you must have received a Pingback from my recent post. If so, thanks for checking out Pairodox and for taking the time to comment. No joke about the influence of your star trail video, it really did give me the motivation to try this sometime. I’ve been meaning to go back and view it again to review the fine points of technique before I give it a try myself. Since I’ve got you on the ‘line’ here, I did have a question. What are the pros and cons of taking a 3 hour (single) exposure of the night sky as opposed to 360 – 30 second shots (and stacking these) over the same time period? Is there some advantage to taking multiple shots (like better resolution and easier to judge exposure)? Anyway, thanks a million for taking time out of what must be a busy schedule to check out my blog. You’ve made my day … really. D

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