Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 6:03 pm | Fair 72º


Dennis Mammana: Celebrating a Quarter-Century of Stargazing

The Stargazers column turns 25 this week. Click to view larger
The Stargazers column turns 25 this week. (Dennis Mammana photo / dennismammana.com)

It’s hard to believe, but I published my first Stargazers column exactly 25 years ago this week.

During that time, we’ve seen eclipses darken the land, planets gather together or transit across the sun, variable stars wink on and off, meteor showers rain from the sky and some of the most spectacular comets in history drift mysteriously across the silent heavens.

And I suspect that anyone who has ever stepped outdoors to experience the events about which I’ve written has figured out that we learn best not with the brain but with the eyes and the heart.

For me, some of the most memorable cosmic events of the past 2½ decades have been watching the sun disappear in a total solar eclipse over the ancient Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat as Buddhist monks beat drums to scare away the sun-eating dragon; standing year after year in the frozen outback of Alaska as the colorful curtains of the aurora borealis dance magically among the glistening wintertime stars; and staring slack-jawed at the iridescent blue-green tail of Comet Hyakutake arching nearly halfway across the sky!

This week, almost as a tribute to this column’s impressive milestone, a rare total solar eclipse will fall onto the U.S. mainland for the first time since 1979, providing many with a spectacular behind-the-scenes glimpse into the intricate workings of the cosmos. It will easily be the most widely viewed and well-documented total solar eclipse; an estimated 20 million people will be swept into the eerie darkness of the moon’s shadow — more than ever in recorded history.

Of course, it’s not just these super-spectacular celestial events that capture our imaginations. Sometimes it’s the simplest and most common. For me, just gazing quietly into the stars of summertime is enough to evoke fond memories of childhood, when my fascination with the universe was just beginning to bloom.

Yes, much has occurred since 1992, but I’m still amused to recall the column’s humble beginnings with the San Diego Union-Tribune. While discussing the introduction of “Stargazers,” my editor asked whether I honestly thought there would be enough material to sustain a weekly column — a perfectly legitimate editorial question, I suppose.

But I must admit that I chuckled to myself; I knew then, as I know now, that when writing about the universe, I’d never run out of fascinating material!

So here we are, a quarter-century later. In that time, I’ve submitted more than a half-million words and some 1,300 illustrations. A special thanks goes out to all the editors who have dealt with them all! Stargazers has long since become syndicated through Creators Syndicate, and readers can now follow me via email subscription, on Facebook, on Twitter and more, something I couldn’t even imagine back in the early days of this column.

In that time, we’ve traveled together nearly 15 billion miles around the sun, and our star has carried us more than 104 billion miles in our orbit around the Milky Way’s center. Youngsters who enjoyed my first columns may now have families of their own and be well on their way to sharing them with grandchildren. Yikes!

I hope that my words have inspired you to view the universe, the world and each other a bit differently, and that they have helped you to create your own special memories.

I eagerly look forward to sharing another 2½ decades of celestial discovery — and more — with you, and I hope that you’ll continue along for what promises to be an even more exciting and thrill-packed cosmic journey!

Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working from under the clear dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County backcountry. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @dennismammana. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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