Sunday, April 08, 2012

Zodiacal Light April 8, 2012 The Zodiacal Light

Easter Sunday Evening, 2012
I went looking for the zodiacal light tonight. I got an announcement from Earth and Sky through my Facebook account that early in April it might be possible to see it. Did you (or do you still) watch dust play in the sunlight? The zodiacal light is interplanetary dust in our solar system playing in the light of the sun.  As stated in Earth and Sky , "The ecliptic is actually Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the stellar sphere. Roughly speaking, we can also call the ecliptic the plane of the solar system, for the sun, moon and planets are always found on or the near the ecliptic." I thought having a little astronomical fun would be the perfect activity after spending the afternoon bird watching in the Akron end of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 

I went looking for a very dark place to see the zodiacal light since it is elusive and easily masked by the ambient illumination that seems to surround us.  I headed west of Akron, through Copley.  There used to be corn fields out there and vast tracts of unlit land.  I moved away from Summit county 36 years ago but moved back 10 months ago.  I'm still catching up on all the changes.  It turns out that where there once were corn fields there are McMansions, each one with it's gaudy facade lit up by flood lights. 

Light pollution may not seem like a major problem compared to fracking, the devastating effect of the BP Oil Disaster on the people, land, flora and fauna of the Gulf coast region, and the deterioration of the oceans.  But our fear of the dark has caused whole flocks of migrating birds to crash to the ground and nocturnal animals suffer the biological disruption of light at the wrong time of day.  Just as important, we have lost the stars, now made invisible in most cities by poorly focused and excessive illumination.  While this problem certainly can be remedied, it reminds me that we change our environment, the ecosystems that we inhabit in irreparable ways.

I have been a very amateur sky watcher since my days as a camp director, wandering the grounds after all my campers (and presumably their counselors) had gone to sleep.  I could watch the wheeling worlds within worlds in the privacy of an empty ceremonial fire circle.  It is there I first saw the zodiacal light.  But that was over 30 years ago and those blessed dark places of my youth are now hemmed in by sub-divisions and strip malls full of fast food restaurants and gas stations.

National Poetry Month
April has the happy circumstance of hosting Earth Day and being Poetry Month.  To celebrate I will post some poetry about our wildly changing world, its creatures, landscapes, and our (uncomfortable?) place in it. Most of the poems will be by some of my favorite authors but I want to start with one I wrote.  It is an occasional celebrating the discovery of the first extra-solar system planet, 51-Pegasi.

51 Pegasi

What holds us in this orbit
Star Chart for 51 Pegasi
us, this earth, around our greening sun?
and together, our star and all the planets,
hurtling, hanging to the outward
limb of this spiraling galaxy.

And our Milky Way
joining other brilliant spans, spinning
riding some great wave together
to where?

Is this too much to consider?
come back home, then
think of all that we are,
focus on our atoms, so tenacious
resisting those whirling forces flung
by our feeble science
will not be dislodged one member from another

Can you feel all these subtle parts?
vibrating invisible chimera
trickster children
changing place when we are not looking
finding weight where there is none
each time we drop our guard
we are caught in some eternal thrall

Yes, this gravity, deep well in the consciousness
of our universe, caresses all that is familiar
as in the cupped hands of countless
silent supplicants
raised in praise to an unknown god.

1 comment:

  1. Phenomenal. I had no idea you wrote poetry. I especially like the last 5 lines.


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