“For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream” – Vincent Van Gogh
This past August I wanted to get a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower, so I went onto my balcony to see what I could. Unfortunately, since I live near Toronto, there was so much light pollution that I didn’t see much at all – in fact, for the first couple of minutes I wasn’t able to detect any stars.
That’s when I realized what was missing in my urban existence – my celestial canopy. When I was a kid and living in the suburbs, I would go out to the backyard, look up at the sky, and see more stars than I could count. Now that I’m in a high-density neighbourhood with light emanating from apartment windows, streetlights and bright storefront signs, the sky is no longer black. In fact, on cloudy nights it doesn’t get any darker than a charcoal gray. Until I stepped outside to search for the meteor shower, I didn’t even notice their absence, and if you’ve lived in an urban area for a long time, I’ll bet that you were also unaware that you could no longer see a significant number of (or even any) stars.
Our sun, of course, is an entirely different story. During the summer, the UV Index is part of the daily weather forecast, and we are warned continually to use a high-SPF sunblock. Now, as winter is approaching and the nights getting longer, we will soon start to read newspaper articles about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a temporary mood change brought about by a lack of significant exposure to sunlight. Shortly afterwards we will be subjected to a plethora of advertisements offering exorbitantly expensive fluorescent desk lamps, cleverly repackaged as “Light Therapy Systems” to combat SAD.
And now, The Bob Angle – a bold, original and completely unproven hypothesis: I believe that regular starlight exposure is just as important to our mental (and even spiritual) well-being as sunlight is to our physical health. I think that starlight completes nature’s balance – we need some exposure to sunlight during the day to maintain good physical health, and we also require regular exposure to the stars at night. Here’s why:
- The stars keep us grounded, and make us realize how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. On a moonless night in a rural area, there are about 2,000 stars visible to the naked eye. The more stars we can observe, the easier it is to look beyond ourselves and our petty problems, and be humbled by the almost incomprehensible vastness of our universe. Furthermore, what we can see (even with a telescope) is just a minuscule portion of what’s out there. Your personal tribulations and even Mankind’s accomplishments may seem like a big deal, but they are barely measurable against the backdrop of a star-filled sky. We are just one planet orbiting a single star, in a universe that contains about seven septillion other stars.
- Stars are a reminder that there is something out there rather than nothing, that there is still more for us to discover, and that we are probably not alone in the universe. At this moment, another civilization on a planet orbiting one of those stars could be gazing in our direction and wondering about us.
- Photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope never cease to amaze us. There is something visceral about its penetrating gaze into our universe, capturing images of galaxies that we could never see clearly (or at all) through the haze of our planet’s atmosphere, and whose distant light took thousands or even millions of years to reach Earth.
- Stars are traditionally associated with granting wishes, as denoted in the following children’s rhyme “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight”. In the Walt Disney movie Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket sings “When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true”. Stars are the conduits for our wishes, and seeing them – especially hundreds of them each night – gives us hope. A whimsical thought: for all we know, beings from another planet could be wishing on our sun right now.
- Stars are used for navigation – sailors used the stars (and a sextant) to navigate the seas. A star (possibly Polaris) guided the three wise men to the birthplace of Jesus. Stars are Mankind’s original GPS, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of us feel lost when we can no longer see them.
- Astrologers use stars to predict future events in your life. Whatever your personal feelings about this system of celestial divination, many astrologers do manage to make a living, which means that more than a few of us actually believe that the position and alignment of various stars and planets can affect our lives in a significant way.
- I think that part of the therapeutic value in camping and in trips to the cottage comes from spending time relaxing under a blanket of stars. It forges a connection as a dull grey sheet is pulled back from the sky, revealing to us, the rest of the universe.
- Stargazing gets the creative juices flowing. The simple act of gazing skyward and letting one’s imagination run free was the inspiration for numerous television series: Star Trek, The X-Files, Lost In Space, Stargate SG-1, Babylon 5, My Favorite Martian, Mork and Mindy, Buck Rogers, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Alf, selected episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits… and countless movies.
- One of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous paintings is Starry Night. It was painted in 1889 and depicts a view of the night sky from the window of Van Gogh’s room at the mental asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. Melanie Lee, in her interpretation of the painting, writes “it’s the night sky that seems to be the life force of this piece with its bursting dynamism”. Van Gogh himself wrote of the painting “It does me good to do what’s difficult. That doesn’t stop me having a tremendous need for, shall I say the word – for religion – so I go outside at night to paint the stars.”. The painting is located in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
- Pop culture provides us with many examples that hint at the disparate powers of stars.
- In Tony Bennett’s song I Left My Heart In San Francisco, they represent aspiration “Where little cable cars, climb halfway to the stars”.
- Perry Como, in his song Catch A Falling Star, proposed that starlight can banish unpleasant thoughts “For when your troubles start multiplyin’, and they just might, it’s easy to forget them without tryin’, with just a pocketful of starlight”
- The mental and physical health benefits of starlight are mentioned in Earth, Wind & Fire’s song, Shining Star “Shining star come into view, shine its watchful light on you, give you strength to carry on, make your body big and strong”.
- Stars are portrayed as guides and companions in Madonna’s song, Lucky Star “You must be my lucky star, ’cause you make the darkness seem so far, and when I’m lost you’ll be my guide, I just turn around and you’re by my side”.
- The ability of stars to grant wishes is the theme of Little Star by Dion & The Belmonts “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder where you are, high above the clouds somewhere, send me down a love to share”.
The combination of sunlight and starlight is what I interpret as Nature’s balance. The light and warmth of the sun keeps us alive and contributes to our physical health, and the light from the stars provides mental and spiritual benefits. Now all we need to do is stop paying attention to stars of the Hollywood variety and start gazing at the real ones instead. In my opinion, they offer far more inspiration.