Over the summer the council replacing and sometimes removing the streetlights around us. When the old ones went, they took with them their sickly orange sodium glow which so used to stain the night sky. Now, the night skies are much improved by their absence; darker and more starry.
My eldest daughter is still very much into all things space, and with the Geminids Meteor shower due, I promised her that if it was a clear night I would wake her up to watch them. At midnight, I looked out of the window and saw a hard frost and starlit skies, so I went up to her room and gently woke her. The poor child was in a deep sleep and slow to stir, mumbling incoherent sleep babble as I tried to wake her. Eventually though I got through to her and I asked if she still wanted to see the meteor shower. Yes came the reply as she rubbed her sleepy eyes.
We went through to the back bedroom, all in darkness, and looked out of the window with her mum. For a few minutes nothing, then my wife saw the first bright white streak. So did my daughter and her face lit up in the starlight. It was her first shooting star!
We decided to wrap up warm and sit outside for a better view (from the back window, Gemini was a stretch to see). I dragged a bench on to the lawn, facing south. My daughter sat on my lap and lay back against me, wrapped in a heavy blanket. While we waited we ran through the constellations and the stars. The Great Bear sat almost overhead, to the east Jupiter shone brightly, then higher in the sky sat Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, below sat lonely Procyon. Orion the Hunter stalked in the south; we traced his stars, Bellatrix, Rigel, Saiph and Betelgeuse then saw a another burning streak, then another and another. We sat and watched the leavings of a comet as they burned through the atmosphere until we grew cold my neck went stiff.
The galaxy is teeming with planets and no doubt some are like Earth – warm enough and wet enough for life as we know it to thrive. Perhaps on one evolution, nature’s blind watchmaker, has thrown up a species similar to us; another intelligent and minute species able to gaze upon the stars and wonder at their enormity. And I wonder, is there among another father and daughter, or whatever passes for such in their alien life history and are they also gazing up at their own night sky, naming the stars and one asking the other, are aliens real?