Last night the lights went out around 8 o’clock. That’s not a major news item. Happens around here quite often. People adjust. I have a battery-powered LED lantern, so I read for a bit and listened to one of my audio books on my iPod. Flashlight beams winked off and on around the neighborhood like fireflies in the darkness. Usually the electricity is off for just a short time but last night it stayed dark for several hours.
Without lights to cause pollution the starry canopy of the sky was in its glory. I took a chair out into the middle of the front lawn and just stared up at the wonder of it all as I did back as a youngster during the summers at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod. Even then I could see the folly of believing that in the vastness of the universe it was the height of human conceit to believe that we were the only place where life existed.
Up there in the state park it was easy to pick out the Big and Little Dippers and Polaris, the North Star. And it doesn’t take a genius to recognize Orion. But down here in Boquerón, Panama, 8 degrees, 30 minutes north of the equator
Orion is still as easy to spot as ever. But so is the great constellation of the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross.
It’s so distinctive that it adorns the flags of Australia and New Zealand.
And as I gazed up at it, not knowing at the time the names of the stars that make up the constellation, I wondered what was happening then the light left those distant stars.
Light travels at a speed of 186,372 miles per second (299,937 kilometers) or some 700 million (1126.54) miles per hour. (Steven Wright, the comedian asks “We know what the speed of light is, but what is the speed of dark?”)
My regular readers know my mind gets off on some weird tangents at times. For example a few months ago when disastrous rains caused raging torrents in rivers so strong it wiped out three bridges in the area I calculated that enough rain fell in that storm to fill 84,460 Olympic swimming pools. http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2011/10/06/east-west-traffic-on-interamerican-hwy-reopened/
So, naturally, staring at the stars in the Southern Cross, I got to wondering what was going on when the light from those stars first started their journey from their point of origin to my retinas last night.
Acrux, or Alpha Crucis, the bottom of the cross is 370 light years away. The light from that star started traveling in 1642. In that year King Charles I with 400 soldiers attacked the English parliament; Georgeana (York) Maine became the 1st incorporated American city; Abel Tasman became the 1st European to step foot in New Zealand; Montreal Canada was founded; the 1st compulsory education law in America passed by Massachusetts; and Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass, held its 1st commencement.
Beta Crucis (Mimosa), the brightest star of the group is 490 light years away and in 1522, Spanish navigator Juan de Elcano returns to Spain, completes the 1st circumnavigation of globe from the expedition begun under Ferdinand Magellan and Emperor Karel I named Hernan Cortes governor of Mexico.
Gamma Crucis (Gacrux), which forms the top of the cross is about 220 light years away. In 1792 the U. S. Postal Service was formed; oranges were introduced to Hawaii, the U.S. Congress established the Philadelphia mint; George Washington cast 1st presidential veto; Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed the French National Anthem “La Marseillaise,” highwayman Nicolas J Pelletier became the first person executed by the Guillotine and the 1st French Republic was formed; Kentucky was admitted as the 15th State; mobs in Paris attack palace of Louis XVI;the English warship Royal George capsized in Spithead killing 900; Farmer’s Almanac was first published and George Washington was re-elected US president.
Delta Crucis, the western arm of the cross, is some 570 light years away. 1442 was a pretty dull year, historically. Edward IV was twice king of England, winning the struggle against the Lancastrians to establish the House of York on the English throne was born Rouen, France, King Alfonso V of Aragon became king of Naples. Other than that people that year mainly sat around staring at each other and scratching their flea bites totally unaware of the light starting its journey from Delta Crucis to my eye in Boquerón.