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Look to the Skies This Month to Find Some Consistency and Comfort

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Scott Levine
Scott Levine

By Scott Levine

On a warm, clear night a week or two ago, I got dinner on and off the table and stepped out to my favorite south-facing spot. As the last of the shadows dissolved around me, my phone rang. Not video, just a regular voice call from an old friend.

While star after star popped into the night, like bubbles in a glass of champagne, we chatted about old times and talked about today’s scary, abbreviated life.

While we all cope with the turmoil around us and look for consistent and reliable things, there’s good news! The skies haven’t been canceled. We can still look out across the galaxy together and take comfort in knowing, with some minor differences in the details, we’re all connected to the same sky, and it connects us.

Each night the view’s the same all over Westchester, across the country and around the northern hemisphere. The exact placing and timing of the stars might change, but the patterns themselves are the same. Maybe we can use this uncomfortable time to have something of a social distancing star party; invite anyone you want!

First, let’s look to the north and find the Big Dipper. As May comes along, it’s high toward the top of the sky, upside down, pouring soup onto your neighbors’ roofs. If you watch from night to night, or even hour to hour, you’ll see the Dipper turn, and revolve counterclockwise around the sky. It’s there, as steady and reliable as the sky itself, every night of the year. Six months from now, it’ll be just above the horizon, catching the soup it poured this month.

Next, follow the curve of the Dipper’s handle away from the bowl. The next bright star you see is Arcturus, the second brightest we can see in our night sky. It’s an old red giant, nearing the end of its life. Billions of years from now, when our sun has used up most of the hydrogen that powers it, it will cool and grow into a star similar to Arcturus. So, in a way, looking at Arcturus is like looking at our own future.

Do you ever spot the moon one night and point to remind to yourself – maybe a little too loud for passersby – that it’ll be in that seemingly blank patch of sky tomorrow night? The next full moon is on May 7. Let’s look for it a few nights before and after, and notice when it rises each night, and what the far-off stars around it look like when it does. What phase is it in? How does the terminator, the line that separates the lunar day from night look? Is it curved? Can you see any shadows stretching across its face?

Or maybe do my favorite thing of all: just look. Don’t worry about names, or distances, or constellations or any of it. Just look and imagine space. What’s it like there or there or there? What’s hiding in that seemingly empty gap overhead? Let your mind go anywhere it wants.

Whether you call a friend and look up, or just take some comfort knowing that we’re all looking at the same thing, the consistency of the sky is a great tool for togetherness and getting through social distancing.

It’s tough these days, but little by little we’re making our way though. I hope you can look up this month. Drop me a line and let me know what you see. We’ll be on the other side, and be better for it, before we know it.

Scott Levine ( is an astronomy writer and speaker from Croton-on-Hudson. He is also a member of the Westchester Amateur Astronomers, which is dedicated to astronomy outreach in our area. For information about the club, including membership, newsletters, upcoming meetings and lectures at Pace University and star parties at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, visit Events are free and open to the public. Please note: All in-person club activities are suspended until further notice due to COVID-19.

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