Night in the desert casts a heavy veil. Without the sheen of city lights to pale the sky, true black descends, splintered only by diamond-like stars or the light of the moon upon the sands. This caliber of darkness is ripe for stargazing and philosophical conversations. One moonless night, however, while driving through the Arizona desert, my vision contracted to the cone of highway illuminated by my headlights. The horizon vanished and it seemed as if I was surrounded by an uninterrupted, infinite bowl of space.
My heart pounded in my chest, my breath came in quick gasps. I was hyperventilating. The vastness of space had suddenly become all too real and I didn’t like it one bit.
From its earliest awakenings, mankind has gazed upon the stars, and wondered. Our greatest myths, our collective unconscious, are recorded in the heavens. We’ve imprinted heroes such as Heracles, our nightmares, and our fantasies into constellations. Ancient gods and goddesses ruled the skies or were made manifest in heavenly bodies. Though we may no longer believe the gods literally dwell in the heavens, the expanse of space is the nearest analogy our human minds can correlate to the infinite God, mind, or spirit.
Even today, though man knows the Earth circles the sun in an elliptical orbit, the moon is not really made of green cheese, and there are no Martians inhabiting that red planet, space and the stars remain objects of fantasy and speculation in literature and on film. Our dreams play out upon flickering TV screens. We go on Star Treks, travel through Stargates, and wage war on Battlestars.
Back on planet Earth, we read morning horoscopes to learn what the stars have in store for us. And who as a child hasn’t searched the skies for a falling star (actually a meteoroid blazing a trail through Earth’s atmosphere) to wish upon?
Science, instead of diminishing our wonder of the stars, merely compounds it. Our puny telescopes reveal spinning galaxies, radiant nebulas, and planetary rings to fascinate and inspire. We know now that the starlight we see in the heavens tonight travelled thousands, perhaps millions of years to Earth. To gaze at the stars is to peer far into the distant past, traveling back in time as well as in space.
Are we alone in the universe? I can’t believe it. But alone or not, the existence of our blue planet, spinning through space and teaming with life and art and gadgets and devices is miraculous. Perhaps the real miracle of the stars is that we are a part of them, our tiny planet twinkling and winking alongside countless others like a beacon in the galaxy. Our place in the universe may be small, but it is indeed wondrous.
About the Author
Kirsten Weiss writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.