Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Galaxy's Nighttime Showings Are Both Amazing, Tax-Free

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Galaxy's Nighttime Showings Are Both Amazing, Tax-Free

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Longenecker, Shorelines columnist

On a quiet Wednesday morning run in mid-October, the one-minute radio feature Earth and Sky on National Public Radio told me to look to the northeast just before moonrise. The nearest galaxy would appear as a blur of stars the size of a full moon. The light would be about 200 million years old.

About 10 p.m. the next Friday, I gave it a try. A thunderstorm had passed that day and was well offshore. Instead of ancient starlight, that storm put on a world-class fireworks display that left not one cardboard cone on the beach.

The original attraction was 200-million-year-old light. Big numbers often are hard to imagine. Carl Sagan once wrote in Parade magazine that there are 1 million seconds in 12 days and 1 billion seconds in 32 years.

Light from that galaxy traveling at the speed of light took 200 million years to get here. Standing on the beach that night, I was hoping to see it. Our own galaxy's light is very old, but a 200-million-year-old flash would have been quite special.

The fireworks show (aka thunderstorm) over the ocean that night is both an ancient form of entertainment for some and a source of terror for others. That night, after a hectic 12-hour shift working in the hospital emergency room, it was a soothing source of delight and relief. We needed the rain.

The beach itself is always a source of relief for me. A full moon rising has no man-made equal. SThe light from millions of stars as seen from the darkness of the cool sand keeps me humble. (If I am indeed humble, and light can do such a thing.)

A year ago, a pre-dawn swim stimulated my imagination to see the "constellation" Galen the Giraffe just south of a real one, Orion the Hunter. My mother collected giraffe figurines, thanks to our family name.

Late in October, Galen appeared again. His long, extended nose gives him away. My father and I share somewhat large noses. Galen is stalking Orion the Hunter from behind. …

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