Recently I have spent some time in the west of Ireland . It’s been stormy , with icy rain and sideways on hailstones battering the landscape. The winds have been epic in this wild place where the ancient potato drills shout evidence of our ancestors ribs bursting the Earth , still hungry after all these years. Most evenings I have stepped outside to look up at the night sky while listening to the Atlantic roar its salty roar at stars too far away to listen.
Occasionally the clarity of the sky has been impressive but short-lived. However on the evening of March 23rd on opening the door I was met with what I can only describe as a crisis sky. Every familiar constellation was buried in the galaxy. It is sometimes said that there are more stars in the night sky than grains of sand on all the worlds beaches, that sky was the epiphany of that statement.
I sat on a stool to try to absorb the visual data before me, as my eyes adapted the complexity of my observation increased , hence a crisis sky. I realised that in order to capture this or even part of it on paper required a total rethink on method and approach. Suburban drawing was a lot simpler , this was a total re – admission to the sky at night.
This Milky Way offered an amalgam of innumerable dots , layers of varying density , colour, nebulosity and even dark fissures among its clumpy twisting display. Before me was a unique opportunity to attempt a drawing. Orion was my choice because Betelgeuse was glowing with colour and M42 was shapely even to the eye. Orion’s hunting bow was the clearest I have ever seen it there was so much to notice that had not come to my attention before. It is a magnificent constellation , a dramatic pattern of mature stars , young stars and baby stars. Betelgeuse is nearing the end of its star life, which when that eventually happens will be a spectacular supernova. That would be the ultimate Orion drawing however, nobody knows when this might occur . It is the job of some scientists to watch this star very closely and possibly predict its exact demise.
To look at M42 in a telescope is splendid, but to sit and look at it by eye knowing that it is a stellar nursery is special. From our eye view on Earth we can look at this humongous molecular cloud and ponder at its powerful action with nothing but our atmosphere and 1,344 Light Years between us. Within its massive gaseous bowl energy we can barely imagine works toward creating new future suns. Baby stars that might one day be hosts to families of orbiting planets, a continuum of energy ,more opportunities for life to take hold. My drawing is far from perfect, but I am glad I left my telescope aside to just look up and try to capture what my eyes witnessed in a place almost free from antropogenic light pollution in the wild west of Ireland.