While our day-to-day lives may often feel quite small and insular at the moment, stepping out into the garden and simply looking up can provide essential fresh perspective.
Wherever we are right now, we can all enjoy the infinite wonders of the night sky while we stay at home.
For me, amateur astronomy truly allows me to rest and retune at the end of a long day. Astronomy enables me to wonder at God’s creation from my own back garden – I am able to meet with him every time I look up and marvel at the work of his hands.
Gazing out of an upstairs window I can see that winter has passed; Orion and the Pleiades are going to sleep and the constellations of spring are rising. Leo the Lion and the Great Bear are high in the sky now, and Venus is shining brightly in the western skies.
Stepping out onto the driveway, I wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Although the light pollution in my area (Northampton) is significant, I can still make out hundreds of stars. The light from each of these distant suns has taken years to reach the earth, often centuries or even millennia – I am quite literally looking back in time!
As I ponder this extraordinary thought, I am aware that my breathing has steadied and my heart rate has dropped. My mind is no longer occupied with the concerns and anxieties of the day, but a peace and stillness envelops me. I consider my God, the creator of all things and the one who sits as sovereign over the whole universe. He is in control; I can surely place my trust in him.
‘The heavens declare the glory of God’, writes the psalmist; ‘the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19:1). As we behold the beauty of the cosmos, we witness the continuing unfolding of creation – we glimpse the glory of God himself.
While a telescope or a pair of binoculars offer the ability to observe ‘deep space’ objects such as star clusters and nebulae, special equipment isn’t required to do astronomy. Likewise, a designated dark site isn’t essential to enjoy the beauty of the night sky.
The moon is a wonderful object to observe with the naked eye, and it is unaffected by light pollution. You might like to compare the moon’s phases throughout the month and note what surface details you are able to see. A pair of binoculars or any digital camera with a zoom/telephoto lens will reveal the many craters that cover the lunar surface. Give it a go – the moon never gets boring!
Venus is currently a sight to behold in the western evening skies – it is incredibly bright (the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon) and will continue to get brighter throughout the next couple of weeks. You won’t struggle to find Venus with the naked eye, and you might like to try and photograph it just after sunset with your smartphone or digital camera. The stunning pinkish-red glow running along the horizon shortly after sunset is known as the ‘Belt of Venus’.
When photographing the night sky, you’ll probably notice that when using longer exposures stars begin to ‘trail’ – this is due to the rotation of the earth on its axis. Star trail images can look incredibly beautiful and they are really quite simple to capture. There are lots of good tutorials online: have a go yourself from your back garden – it’s lots of fun!
There are lots of great resources out there for those wanting to give amateur astronomy a go, but I would definitely recommend downloading an app that helps you learn and navigate the constellations – there are a few to choose from.
I particularly enjoy photographing the night sky through my telescope. I am able to capture long exposure images of galaxies and nebulae from my humble back garden thanks to a tracking mount that compensates for the earth’s rotation. I have included some of my images in this article.
Although we are separated at the moment, we can take comfort in the fact that we are all looking up at the same sky. I hope that you are able to enjoy the beauty of the cosmos wherever you are at the moment, and I pray that you might draw closer to the glory of Jesus through the wonder of his creation.
This Meet the Community article was written by Jordan Allen for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and darkness.’ Jordan is a recent graduate from Trinity College Bristol and is in ministry, based in Rushden, Northamptonshire.
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