Linenger's Letters to his Son

April 4, 1997
"
Humans think too much instead of just enjoying"

Dear John:

You can see about eight thousand stars with the naked eye, when viewing from Earth. About four thousand if you live in the southern hemisphere, and a different four thousand if you live in the northern hemisphere. Of course, you only see half of these at a time, due to the light of day, so on a given night you see about two thousand stars.

Up here I can see them all over a very short period of time.

I learned a new way to view them. Unattached. Unthinking. Gazing. Not trying to categorize, name, or pick out constellations. Just looking.

At first I had my binoculars. But then I said to myself, isn't eight thousand sufficient? Sure, there are hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way (our galaxy) alone; but I decided that viewing the cloudlike structure with its dark patches as a whole was quite satisfying enough.

The catalogs now list over ten million stars or so. I'm glad to know that fact, because now I can just relax when viewing the sky. No one can remember ten million of anything, right? A peculiarity of us humans; always thinking too much instead of just enjoying.

Last night I made my way to the window in order to try to see the shuttle launch from Florida. Figured that during the eight minutes of burn, I'd at least have a chance to see it. I did not (at the time we were atop Asia), but I did make fortuitous back-to-back sightings of moving objects.

When looking directly to the north, above the dancing Northern Lights, I saw a very fast moving light above the horizon coming toward me, then suddenly disappearing. Then three minutes later, another, on almost the same trajectory.

What I think I saw were two very-high-altitude polar-orbiting satellites, still catching the rays of the Sun, while the Earth below was already dark. Really moving along fast.

John, after I land, we'll set up a tent in the backyard and have a father-son campout. We'll look up at the stars, relax, and just enjoy being together again.

Be good. Give Mommy a smile and a kiss for me, please.

Love,

Dad.

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