On Friday evening I attended a meeting held in a village hall deep in the heart of Suffolk. I followed the winding country roads for what seemed a long way through small villages that were quiet and very dark. At last I reached my intended village and peered through the darkness for some sign of a village hall. Then at a small junction near a church was a sign "Village Hall" pointing up a narrow lane.
I parked the car and got out. What immediately struck me was the pitch black sky illuminated with a myriad of stars. Having spent a lot of my time living close to London and now, more recently, in a large village with street lights, it was a rare and marvellous sight. The last time I remember seeing the stars so clear and bright was several years ago on holiday in rural Yorkshire. Then, like on this Friday night, the sky seemed to be teeming with stars.
To the casual observer there seems to be little pattern to these stars and the reality is actually the same - stars seemingly close together in the sky are nearly always in fact at quite different distances away from the earth. And a bright star can in fact be many times further away from us than a much fainter one. But people in ancient times saw patterns in the stars that made figures, animals, items. They had good imaginations!
Since I was a young child I have known and recognised these patterns or constellations. I used to buy I-Spy books from a village shop close to my Grandma's home. One day when I was about eight I bought "I-Spy The Night Sky". When I took this home (amazingly then it was deemed safe to go to the shop on my own!) and showed it to my family they wanted me to change it for a more suitable I-Spy book; not some book full of complicated night time constellations. But the book fascinated me, I dug my heals in and kept it.
I soon learnt to recognise all the major constellations. Now when I see them at night it's like seeing old friends. Often with just a small area of sky visible the stars there can be easily recognised. The constellations remain the same year after year but their position in the sky, or even whether they are visible or not, varies with the passing months and seasons.
On Friday night I had a few minutes before the start of the meeting. I looked up and looking back at me was Orion (the Hunter). This is one of the easiest winter star groups to see. At his feet was Canis Major (the Great Dog)with its very bright star, Sirius ("the dog star"). High above Orion was Taurus (the Bull) and Gemini (the celestial twins) and overhead Auriga (the Charioteer). Rising in the east was Leo (the Lion) which presently includes the planet Saturn. Above and to its left was Ursa Major (the Great Bear) seven of who's stars form "The Plough".
I gazed in wonder at not only these major stars but also the myriad of fainter stars around them. All these stars are like our Sun and many will have planets around them. By the law of averages there must be life out there - at truly mind-blowing unimaginable distances away from us. Somewhere up there perhaps someone is blogging right now about their night sky.
I said a quiet goodbye to my old friends the constellations then walked into the village hall to meet some new friends at the local Conservative Association AGM.