Lights: above and below the horizon

22-May 2012, 02:17
Leg 2 to Marquesas, Day 20

Forgive me for writing incessantly about this same theme since my first night aboard the boat in Panama, but it’s always new to me!

For the last two and a half hours (on night watch of course) I’ve been having a most wonderful light-gazing. I first noticed the sky. This time I can confidently say with a superlative that I’ve never seen the stars more bright or clear in all my life. The milky way looks like a tremendous Lite-Brite, a million points of white beaming down with laser-like intensity. Moonlight has been absent from the nighttime sky for a week, but the nights are bright with star light. My hand against the sky, the boat before me, the water below the horizon – these things appear black. The sky itself is deep purple, lighting up the night without the moon or light pollution.

As usual on particularly starry nights, I’ve lounge on a bench in front of the cockpit, identifying stars and constellations using my Starwalk app ’till my head hurts. Usually I need to use some imagination to make out the forms completely, but not tonight… when everything is crystal clear! Interesting how much of this is only visible in the southern hemisphere… crazy, there are effectively 2 skies! I’ve noticed, traveling steadily west all this time and just below the equator, that I’m always star-gazing off the port beam (south) instead of north… I guess they’re just more brilliant from this location (makes sense). Now I can readily point out the constellations Scorpius, Virgo, Corbus, Centaurus and the Southern Cross, the Northern and Southern Crowns, Ursa Major, Leo, Gemini, and the Serpens (head & tail). Easiest to spot are Venus, Saturn, Mars, Sirius (brightest star) and Canopus (2nd), as they’re so close and bright. Limited only by the amount of time I feel like looking up and the Earth’s rotation, which spins the view so quickly, I feel like I can learn much in little time. We’ve got some Celestial Navigation books on board too, but that would be too practical! Playing Where’s Waldo in the sky, or more accurately “What’s that? and checking out on my live key map is way more fun.

I can now easily imagine the early astronomers naming these heavenly bodies, a majority of them 1500-2000 years ago. It’s hard to imagine that these clusters “stay together”, made up of stars and galaxies with such tremendously varying distances from us (from, could you believe, 125 to over 6000 light years away!) Considering that their distance is measured in time, (a “light year” being a distance unit that light travels in a year, or approx. 6 trillion miles), it makes sense that any relative movement would take thousands of years to perceive.

Then, while peeing off the beam, I noticed the bio-plankton are especially vivid here. The phenomenon varies significantly everywhere I’ve seen it; here, they’re really big and bright, flaring-up for only a moment but with great intensity. The deep blue sea is alive and illuminated with these sparkles, twinkling on and off like christmas lights. The boat itself makes neon waves and an accompanying soundtrack, droning faintly like the surf breaking on shore, by the force of 23 tons plowing through the undulating surface. As I gaze out I can see bright disturbances down below, like green traffic signals flashing, indicating fish scurrying and disappearing in their own clouds of light.

So similar actually, between the heavens above and the phosphorescent plankton below, the world is contiguously luminescent.

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