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Sanibel Stargazing: Experiencing night turning into day

By Staff | Sep 3, 2009

Perhaps it was the pull of the planets, or perhaps it was my internal clock that awoke me around 4:30 a.m. Whatever it was I wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep. I decided to get up and make my way to the beach and experience night turning into day.

Once I was outside and gazing upward, I was glad I got out of bed so early. It was one of those times looking up at a night sky that you can imagine why it was such an integral component in the lives of ancient cultures. The brightness of stars and the vastness of sky were simply overwhelming, transforming me back in time to the wonder and imagination of childhood.

As I got closer to the beach, the night sounds surrounded me. Tree frogs and crickets in and around the swale were making their presence known to their perspective mates following a much needed soaking rain the previous evening. In the distance, but clearly audible, the call of a great horned owl echoed through the cabbage palms.

On this moonless night, the brightest object by far was Venus, our sister planet, dominating the eastern sky in the vicinity of Gemini’s twins Castor and Pollux and just to the north of Orion, the mythical hunter, who was just starting to make his way above the horizon. Low in the west Jupiter, the king of planets and eleven times the size of Earth, was making its way to the Gulf where its illuminated light was reflected on the water’s surface. To the north of Jupiter was the trio of stars collectively known as the summer triangle. Vega, the brightest of the three, is within Lyra the Harp, Altair in Aquila the Eagle and Deneb marking the tail of Cygnus the Swan.

Sitting on the soft sand and looking out over the water, I was treated to a light show from a distant storm and the magical awe of a few shooting stars that luckily caught my eye. Sirius, the brightest star we can see, was rising in the east with its light being twinkled by our atmosphere. Here I was watching Sirius, the same star that Egyptians – thousands of years ago – saw rising in the east and they instantly knew that the Nile River would soon be flooding and irrigating their crops.

All but the brightest of stars dissolved into the coming day and the early rays of light were now shining on those distant thunderheads over the Gulf, turning them various shades of purple and pink. I stayed on the beach until Venus finally faded away into the blue. It was just before 7 a.m., and the little boy inside of me couldn’t imagine a better way of starting the day.

(Richard Finkel is an Environmental Educator with Captiva Cruises and conducts naturalist programs including Sailing Under The Stars: Experiencing Day Turn Into Night. Any comments or questions can be addressed to info@captivacruises.com.)