We’ve been fixated on the starry sky since our inception. We have stared at the cosmos as humans, as neanderthals, as base simians, and, no doubt, as the scrabblers who came before the primate. There are recordings in chalk, cuneiform, tablet, scroll, paint and stonework from every era of man, in every corner of the world, dedicated to the mapping of heavens we knew we would never touch. The logical assumption for this global fixation is twofold.
One, mapping the stars was a method of early compassing, aiding travelers and sailors with their recognizable constellations. If you knew the stars, a clear night could always guide you home.
Two, religious overlapping–there’s no counting how many legends were constructed to explain the stars in every culture. The Milky Way alone claims thirteen myths for as many pre-Christian civilizations, named foremost for the Greek story of an infant Heracles dribbling Hera’s milk across the sky.
But these reasons for stargazing have staled with the advent of modern solutions. We have GPS now, and the pagan beliefs which spawned the first gods and heroes who populated the cosmos have been consigned to history books, labeled as mythology rather than religion. So, why stargaze in our modern age?
Here Is Why Stargazing Is Good For You –
Why do we still pause in places untouched by light pollution, struck by an old, inborn wonder at nights shot through with the glitter of stars?
Beyond the fact that the stars are beautiful to see, same as any fine art, the main reason may be that it helps and heals us on a mental level.
To regard the immensity of outer space is to regard our smallness within it. And this is just the act of observing the naked sky with our own eyes, or a tripod telescope. When stargazing, there are images caught by the Hubble Space Telescope which rattle mind and soul with the attempt to register their scale.
Witnessing such things and recognizing their vastness compared to our finite, earthly existence is humbling, even comforting. It puts all the turmoils and man-made frustrations of day-to-day life into perspective on a celestial scale. Our aggravations in personal life seem soften after tracing over the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. Such awe has even been scientifically connected to improving temperament and social interaction.
In 2015, social psychologist, Paul Piff, published, “Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior,” in which he described the positive effects of observing awe-inducing spectacles. In his experiments, his team found that those who’d just experienced sights or activities that inspired reverence were more likely to provide assistance unbidden.
Piff defines awe as a crucial social function; a requirement for shifting our focus from individual, self-focused concerns and expanding our perspective to include others’ well-being. What’s felt when experiencing the grandeur of nature–be it Earth’s or the stars’–is a catalyst for inspiring goodwill and broader social-thinking in us. Looking on the galaxy, we recognize that we are one small piece of an enormous whole, and we become more likely to act on our ability to help others within our own small world.
But, inspiring as the cosmic tapestry is in terms of giving us a bigger, more philanthropic view of ourselves and our tiny planet, such an effect seems secondary in these times. The importance of the group versus the self has become not just a humanitarian request, but a literal matter of life or death. Being moved by the majesty of the stars is filigree compared to the current barrage of hazards circulating today.
Coronavirus, human rights violations, protests, spikes in police and governmental brutality, socioeconomic crises, and the usual threats to the environment–the news is a daily purging of grim updates on the state of humanity. To operate in the world fixated only on ourselves is no longer an option. Individuals are more aware than ever of their place in the mass and their importance in participating in the myriad fights to make things better.
So, beyond beauty, beyond betterment, why stargaze? Simple.
To remind us that in the scope of the universe, our greatest monsters are microbes, and our biggest fears mere motes among stardust.
Look at the stars, everyone, and know that there is always light in the dark.