James Murray tells a story for a small crowd at the ORL Salmon Arm branch on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Column: Looking to the stars and reflecting back on Earth

Great Outdoors by James Murray

How many times over the course of my life have I looked up in awe at the nighttime sky and, well, simply wondered.

About 40 years ago I purchased a used eight-inch reflector telescope. Even though it was used, it was still pretty much state of the art back then. I have seen a lot of things through its eyepiece. Now they have computerized tracking/guiding systems that can track just about anything out there.

Telescopes have come a long way in recent years. I cannot help but wonder what Galileo would say if he could peer through something like the Hubble Space Telescope. It would probably blow his mind.

However, you don’t need an expensive astronomical telescope to enjoy the nigh sky. All you need is a clear night and a decent pair of binoculars, and you will be able to view thousands of stars and constellations, as well as some of the more easily visible planets such as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. You might even catch a glimpse of a comet or a meteors or a shooting stars. And, of course, there is always our own moon. There are also pretty simple star charts you can download from your computer that will allow you to figure out, on any given night, which stars up there make up Andromeda or Canis Major, or any other of the 88 known constellations.

On the other hand, there are computerized telescopes where you just focus in on a recognizable star and a built-in computer database takes over. It will find, focus in and follow (track) just about anything out there. There are also a number of good, relatively inexpensive telescopes that will bring the craters of the moon into sharp focus as well as let you view everything from planets to nebulae.

Read more: LIVE: You can watch NASA’s Rover landing on Mars today

Read more: Former Salmon Arm residents head to Mars habitat for brain research

I can’t think of a better way to self-isolate than to be all alone looking up at the stars.

While we may have gained great knowledge about the universe since Galileo first peered through his primitive little telescope, in many ways we also know very little about what exists out there in space. I am neither a theologian or a scientist. I am a simple person who looks up at the sky and has far more questions than answers.

What I do know, however, is that as the universe unfolds, astronomers are discovering answers to questions that most of us cannot even imagine.

Although lately, when I’m looking up at the night time sky, part of me cannot help but wonder just what lies in the future for planet Earth. This whole COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put a lot of things into perspective. Humans have the capacity to do amazing things. We have put a man on the moon and, most recently, NASA’s Perseverance Rover landed on Mars – both tremendous accomplishments – and yet we cannot agree to wear a mask during this time of pandemic.

My question is how can we look towards other planets when we cannot even look after Earth?

I don’t know what lies in store for people here now on Earth, but I can only hope that when future generations are either looking up at the universe or back at planet Earth, they too will be full of awe and wonder.

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