12 August 2012
Since leaving the Pacific Northwest this spring, my world has continued to change in dramatic and ways. It's not until you leave a place, that you begin to realize how it defines you. Though it is summer still and I'm not used to seeing stars in the summer (because the sun dominates the Alaskan sky), I've noticed on night watches that things are not where they are "supposed to be." The big dipper lies askew in the sky and sets each night as it takes another dip from the Pacific Ocean. The Milky Way is strewn in a north-south direction and there are many stars, yet I can't seem to quite get my bearings. It's made me feel a bit like I'm on a different planet. Where's Orion? I think that's Polaris on the horizon, but where's the little dipper? And what are all these other bright stars? I've also noticed since leaving Hawaii there is a very distinct absence of human activity in the skies. There's no stream of flashing strobes from airplanes. Satellites are almost nonexistent. Being from Alaska, I am well used to remoteness. But sailing south toward the equator from Hawaii, I'm realizing this is a different kind of remoteness. You can be remote in Alaska, but not without the constant reminder that communication satellites and jet con trails are directly overhead. One takes for granted that the sky is the same everywhere. But it's not. The one I'm used to seeing is flecked with signs of human existence that seem to (at least from a technology standpoint) dominate the northern hemisphere. Seeing the absence of these signs and the familiarity of the star map that's apparently been imprinted in my head leaves one feeling a bit like you're sailing off the end of the world. We've almost arrived after sailing some 900 miles south from Hawaii for a destination that is a mere pinhole speck on the ocean; a lacy thread of lucky land barely visible from sea or space. Yea, Palmyra measures altitude in the severals of meters. Anyway, tonight I remembered a cool ap that I'd downloaded for my phone which could tell me the answers to some of my questions. After fiddling with the settings a bit, I could point the phone to my mystery star and (with some effort trying to account for the constant boat motion) get a positive ID. I had to turn off the constellation map because it was too distracting with all these animals and characters floating around in the sky. But holy cow, I didn't really know you could see Mars and Saturn like that or there was Alpha Centauri and Vega and I thought Draco was only a Harry Potter name! Its 2:38 HST and I've just watched Jupiter rise- followed by an orange bowl-shaped crescent moon. OK, there's Pleiades. I can actually see the Southern Cross on my ap, but it's still below the horizon. Not for long.