This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

Looking at the stars the way our ancestors did

I am a star-gazer. When I mention my interest in looking at the stars, inevitably someone takes out their iPhone to find an app displaying 10,000 of the lesser-known galaxies. Or a discussion begins about telescopes. I try to change the subject.

Our ancestors had a basic working knowledge of the stars. That didn't mean having a degree in astrophysics, or going to go visit their local science museum to see stars painted on the ceiling. It was practical, day-to-day, season-to-season stuff. It gives me great personal comfort in looking at the stars that way, and if you're still searching through your web browser, trying to find the name of the furthest star from earth, I understand. I'll leave you alone. But if you're interested in looking at the stars the way our ancestors did, start with the biggest one.

Yeah, I know, you aren't listening anymore, you are searching on the web. Is it a number one brightness star? Or do they call it a number 10 radiance? Is there a Facebook page on it that I can "like"? Well, maybe that's not you, so here the biggest star in the sky - the sun.

It seems like a trick question, but to my surprise, the vast majority of people that I talk to don't have even the slightest idea about how the sun works. No, I'm not talking about how the hydrogen burns, or how many billion years old it is. I'm just talking about how it moves. And yes, that's how our ancestors saw the sun. They knew it didn't move, the earth did, but for all practical purposes, like all of the other stars in the sky, it moved.

Go walk outside and look at the shadows. It's early spring. About what time is it? Your ancestors would know. Stay outside until the sun goes down, now find your way north. Your ancestors didn't need a compass, and neither do you.

I like looking up at the stars and knowing that everyone who has ever lived on this planet has seen exactly what I am seeing. The lifetime of the human race is essentially meaningless to the stars. But the stars are so meaningful to the lifetime of the human race.

Excuse me, I'm going to go outside now and do some star-gazing.
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