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Seeing Stars

Seeing Stars

By Steven Boyd Saum

View full image. Illustration by David Plunkert
Peering into the beginnings of the universe, the stories we tell in the constellations we discern, and the literal and metaphoric stars that guide us

We write stories in the stars: draw the lines between burning, disparate celestial orbs—this one we call the foot, that one we call the tail, and there are the camels quenching their thirst—and connect the dots. Once upon a time I learned the constellations as characters who populated the marvelous tales of crabs and charioteers, bears and bow-wielding hunters, altars and eagles, harps and hares, fishes and scorpions. 

So here’s a question: Where do you go to see the stars now?

When I was a boy, the best view of the night sky that I knew was on the shore of a lake in Michigan’s little finger. My father would take us out to the water’s edge, and we would gaze up at the starshower, watching for hours while the constellations wheeled overhead. What rained down weren’t really stars, we knew. But those blazing streaks of light—I swore I could hear them race across the heavens with a whoosh—they came from stars once upon a time, didn’t they? As did we: made of starstuff, as an observer of the cosmos once assessed.

Which is to say: We read our story in the stars. Gaze back across space, time, and there’s the history of the whole shebang—life, the universe, everything. Quasars and supernovas. Seething cauldrons of stars being born. Ancient stars collapsing, going cold. Galaxies devouring one another, a long time ago, far away. 

And yet, look up; there remain those shimmering points of light that can serve as guides in a journey. In the pages ahead, star traveler, we’ve got galaxies of real stars. We also reveal a fondness for metaphoric stars. Some are rising, some are folks of the first magnitude. Some took years of study to understand. 

So, another question: Who are your stars? In the rapidly expanding universe, story still unfolding, where should we look next?

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