The Sky at Night


As you may have seen, some interesting footage has just been released by the United States Department of Defense. The film, which was shot from the camera of a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet interceptor, shows a curious object exhibiting unusual and astonishing flight characteristics somewhere off the Californian coastline. Sadly, although the Super Hornet is one of the most highly advanced aircraft in the sky, the images it captured with its state-of-the-art technology (or at least those which have been released into the public domain) leave much to be desired. We hear the surprised reactions of the crew, but see only an amorphous blob in the distance. Despite the hysterical reactions of the internet, the pictures tell us nothing. The object remains unidentifiable.

Coincidentally, the release comes just as another otherworldly conundrum exits stage left. For a few weeks at least, speculation was rife as to the possible origins, purpose or meaning of the Oumuamua anomaly. As it hurtled by our planet at a staggering rate of knots, something of a scientific frenzy ensued in a hasty attempt to try and understand. But it was just a rock. Once again, we were denied further insight into the enigma of the universe.

Maybe it’s the time of year. Maybe, as thoughts turn to Wise Men following stars, we become entranced by the wonder of the sky at night. For sure, looking up does us no harm at all; the night sky is truly glorious to behold. I love to stand outside in the crisp, clear air, gazing up at the heavens, mesmerised. Jupiter should be visible at the moment, close to Venus before sunrise, shining low in the south-eastern sky. Orion too, The Hunter – dominant – mightily drawing back the string of his bow as he takes aim once more at his enduring celestial quarry.

And yet, though their beauty and wonder is ours to contemplate, it isn’t always wise to think too much about them. Excessively pondering the depths of space is, I fear, a route to madness. The stars we see are but the tip of an infinite iceberg. We are peering into history. Their light reaches us having travelled across vast oceans of nothingness, sometimes for many millions of years.

What of those stars whose light has yet to complete its journey? How many civilisations might have once risen to glory before meeting their end out there, somewhere far away in the bottomless pool of the eternal night?

We can never know. It is the cosmic mystery. Its understanding may not be within the destiny of our species – of humanity itself. Our scientists can estimate and theorise about their myriad possibilities, but we should remember that theories and estimates are only ever guesses dressed up in comforting words. We must accept it is knowledge that may never be within our grasp. Above us the stars will remain: unfathomable, magical, perpetual. They are impossibly, unimaginably distant – quite simply, too far away.

What a pity it is, as we rush headlong towards this Christmas Season, that the same thing can’t be said of unexpected bleeding callers at the door.

Link to CNN copy of the footage: