Explore the stars at upcoming Starlight Night

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I will turn 50 this year.

There, I said it. There’s no turning back and no more denial. I am making the transition from being a vibrant, young life-of-the-party to a wise, old sage.

Naturally, there are now many who would like to seek my learned counsel. And I am glad to pontificate my views when given the chance. Like right now, for example.

Five decades. Wow. I think the one thing that stands out the most in my mind is witnessing the transition in preference from the real to the artificial.

Pixels have replaced people and places. Video games are more popular than actual play. And, to an old guy like me, the phrase “virtual reality” seems like an oxymoron.

I see folks everyday walking with their heads down, staring at a device instead of interacting with their surroundings. They have “friends” – hundreds of them – whom they have never met. A meaningful conversation is sacrificed for messaging and texting.

We are losing touch with each other.

And with nature.

This is nothing new. Urbanization has been separating us from nature for over a century: Cities go up, the lights turn on, and the human species becomes domesticated.

One of the casualties of such progress is the splendor of a night sky.

It is an unfortunate turn of the page in the history of mankind, for humanity had a relationship with the stars for thousands of years. They were used to predict seasons, dictate the course of nations and drive science forward.

Writers, poets and dreamers would strive to properly articulate the magnificence of the heavens.

But now we live in a time where many will never stare in awe and humility at the night sky. Between light pollution and the allure of electronics, the celestial is becoming forgotten.

Let’s recapture our curiosity.

On January 25, from 5:30-9 p.m., you have the opportunity to become reacquainted with our place in space. Starlight Night at Lake Asbury Junior High School is a free public event that offers telescope viewing, science demonstrations, arts and crafts for the kids and some fun guests to help guide you through heavens.

“I really believe that everyone, young and old, has an innate fascination with the universe, and this evening offers people a chance to begin such a journey of discovery,” said Desiree Webber, science teacher at LAJH and organizer of the event.

“Our tagline is, ‘Science, Learning, and Community,’ as visitors will also get to mingle with neighbors and learn about their schools and programs,” she added.

The Northeast Florida Astronomical Society – NEFAS – will provide a range of telescopes, equipment and experts to help you explore the final frontier. And the January sky has plenty to offer.

The moon will be in its first-quarter phase on the 25th, giving depth to the lunar mountains and craters. Deep sky objects, such as the Orion Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula, are also popular winter targets. Star clusters, double stars and even Uranus and Neptune will also be explored.

And as much as Floridians dislike the cold, the cooler temperature and lower humidity make this the best time of year to observe.

The science demonstrations are presented by Oakleaf High School’s AP Physics classes, with inquiry questions and real-world applications. Can you safely touch 250,000 Volts? How does a bicycle stay upright? Do different observers in the universe experience the same event?

A real meteorite will also be on display that visitors will be able to hold. Star maps will be distributed with live instruction on how to use them.

Awesome!

Food will be available for a small fee, with proceeds supporting the LAJH Chapter of the Future Farmers of America.

What a great way to begin, or recapture, a lifelong love of learning. It is time to turn our heads upward again, to the splendor of a starlight night.

“We are excited to host our very first Starlight Night at Lake Asbury Junior High School,” said Beck Murphy, principal. “And we are thrilled to partner with NEFAS and others to offer this great learning opportunity to our students, their families, and our community.”

Indeed.

I am excited about this event, and hope you are too. And I can’t wait to hear what people take away from it. You’ll have to tell me all about it.

What’s that? You’ll have to speak louder…

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