Do you stargaze regularly? I think if you ask most of the people around you, the answer would be “no.” But I often wonder if the term “stargazing” doesn’t come carrying a lot of heavy baggage. I mean, some folks might interpret it to mean, “I go out, set up the telescope, get my star charts, calculator, computer, and then I stay up all night and discover great things.”
That’s certainly one way to think of stargazing. But here’s another: “When I step outside at night, I look up to see what I can see. If there are stars out, I try to find ones I’ve spotted before. I try to find familiar constellations.”
Here’s another: “I don’t know anything about astronomy, but I like to go out and look up at the stars.”
Equally valid and and another way folks can enjoy the sky. I came to these thoughts while working on some copy for the Griffith project. I was sitting there wondering how different people interpret astronomy and stargazing. I’ve had many chances to test it out with people I run into every day: cab drivers, checkout people, the woman who does manicures in the salon I go to, and many others. I’ve found out something: everybody likes the stars, but they don’t always think of themselves as stargazers. Which I find interesting. I figure if you go out and look, no matter WHY you look or HOW you gaze, you’re a stargazer. A skywatcher in a long tradition of skywatchers.
While working on this Griffith Observatory project with the exhibit designers in New York city I’ve had a chance to do some walking around at different times of day and night. The other night a group of us were walking home after dinner and we ran across a shoot; my guess it was for a commercial, but no way of knowing. The cameras, sound equipment, and requisite crowd of directors, assistants, lackeys and hangers-on was cluttering up the sidewalk around a lone actor standing in front of a big glass door waiting for his cue. A neat kind of New York moment, although I’ve seen similar scenes in Chicago, Denver, and Boston. There are advertisements scattered here and there about how NYC is one of the world’s best sets. Also cool. There’s just about every kind of scene here imaginable in an urban setting.
I happened to look up that night—I don’t do that too often here, mostly because it’s been so cloudy. It was clear and I did happen to catch sight of the Moon and a handful of stars. Kind of interesting juxtaposition of a light-polluted sky with a few celestial objects and a lighted set with a “star” standing there waiting for his “action!” to begin. And, on top of that, working on a project to explain astronomy to citizens of another light-polluted area in one of the country’s longest-standing planetarium/observatory complexes. The circles life moves in are sometimes surprising.