GOOD NEWS

Lighting up the night sky

By ERIN O'BRIEN
Posted 7/9/20

In my home state of California, fireworks were outlawed in the city where I lived as a kid. But I remember the screaming Piccolo Pete, the little charcoal black snakes that left marks on the sidewalk, and the sparklers which tickled my

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GOOD NEWS

Lighting up the night sky

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In my home state of California, fireworks were outlawed in the city where I lived as a kid. But I remember the screaming Piccolo Pete, the little charcoal black snakes that left marks on the sidewalk, and the sparklers which tickled my arms. I also remember my dad saying that he may as well light a dollar bill on fire.

During my first summer Rhode Island I did a double-take while driving on West Shore Road: I hadn’t seen a fireworks stand in 40 years! After being jolted awake in the middle of the night with the sound of a loud kaboom— it may have been Winter Solstice or Groundhog Day—I’ve learned Rhode Islanders really love their fireworks.

This year, with the COVID-19 crisis still lingering, the Fourth of July was going to be very different. We had purchased all the ingredients—corn on the cob, watermelon, hamburger buns, potato chips, and strawberries—for an abbreviated version of a July 4th barbecue for two, homage to Independence Days of the past.

With the announcement that Warwick’s Oakland Beach fireworks display was being canceled, we came up with Plan B. My husband, selecting a bottle of red wine, and I, bearing homemade strawberry blueberry shortcake, headed to our neighbors’ house at 8:30PM. Yes, we invited ourselves.

Kathy and Dave have a large front porch where we could visit in a socially distant manner easily, not to mention partake of an unobscured view of the various fireworks displays over the water. Kathy offered me a quilt as protection against the mosquitoes, remembering last year. Dave had his telescope at the ready, as he announced there would be a lunar eclipse at 11:07 p.m

The four of us risked whiplash, stretching our necks in every direction so as not to miss the sky’s simultaneous vibrant explosions of color. In the center the glowing yellow orange moon in the southeastern sky seem to smile at us. Thin gray clouds passed in front of it, sometimes obscuring it completely, before the glowing orb was revealed once again.

“Would you like to see Saturn and Jupiter?” Dave asked us, centering the telescope on the porch. After a few adjustments, he invited us to look into the heavens.

I held my breath as I heard explosions all around me, and gazed at Jupiter, the largest planet, and some of its moons on a plane on either side of it. I thought of the small telescope and astronomy book I received for my birthday the year of the moon landing.

Dave adjusted the telescope for us once again for a view of Saturn, the second largest planet. I was momentarily unaware of the fireworks displays around me; dimmer than Jupiter, the planet’s easily recognizable silhouette with its distinctive ring made the planet appear as an ellipse.

Afterwards, I gazed up at the night sky again, conscious of the pyrotechnic grand finales in my peripheral vision, but focused on the celestial bodies, brighter and farther. I didn’t think I could stay awake for its grand finale, the lunar eclipse.

The sky was growing quieter as the four of us greeted our neighbors while children paraded by with small American flags in the dark. Had they noticed the astronomical show above them?

The four of us said good night, and my husband and I walked home by the light of the moon. The moon seemed to follow us from its vantage point alongside its neighbors, Jupiter and Saturn.

It wasn’t the Fourth of July I expected, but it turned out to be one of simple pleasures, sharing our friends’ front porch, and gazing at the moon and planets in between the fireworks.

Jupiter and Saturn will be in opposition to the earth this month; the earth will be between the sun and Jupiter July 13th through the 14th, and between the sun and Saturn July 20th. Solarsystem.NASA.gov, Space.com, and Earthsky.org are three websites which provide detailed daily guides to the night sky.

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