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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

Mark Seth Lender turns his camera skyward to capture a lunar eclipse. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

The vastness of space can provoke fear but the perspective it brings can also bring inspiration and even comfort. Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender recounts the impact on his consciousness of a star-studded sky, planets in full view, and shooting stars.


DOERING: If you look up at the sky on a clear night, you can see satellites zipping across a background of stars and planets. Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender is usually peering down a camera lens at wildlife but on occasion, he looks up.

© 2023 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

It was clear last night. Unusually clear for down here on the bight. It’s the job of the ocean to put moisture into the air, fog and mist, and clouds. Instead the sky was - blue-black! A color I expect in the mountains or far north. But not here. And it was late and not many lights on along the shoreline. Pristine. I could see the Milky Way. That’s rare, I catch it a few times a year at most. If I see it at all. Usually it’s North to South but it had turned. All the way round to nearly East-West and that I’ve never seen. Jupiter was yellow and huge and low. And many many stars…

I used to look up at those stars and it frightened me, when I was a little kid. I came from a family were knowledge was a valued thing. My father was working on his masters at MIT then, and I remember him coming home with slugs of alloy he’d tested on a hundred ton drop press and he’d show me how the grain, if it was fine, determined that the metal would be flexible and could bend and if the grain was coarse the alloy would crack. That was when I was four years old. When I was seven or eight I knew the stars were far away, that the universe was… Vast. When I thought about that and looked up what I felt was mortal fear.

For Mark Seth Lender, the night sky puts his life in perspective. He finds the vastness of the universe comforting. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Now, instead, the night sky is a comfort. It puts things in perspective. Calms me. I’m learning to name the constellations, something I’ve always wanted to do. I mean like everyone else I know where the Big Dipper is and Orion’s Belt and Cassiopeia (the big W in the sky). But I want, Cignus the Swan, and Camelopardalis and Lynx. And Draco, the Dragon.

Sometimes, the Universe lends encouragement. Two shooting stars right over my head! One left a trail… “WOW! look what I just saw!” Everyone feels that way. Then I thought, where did they come from? Fragments of a distant comet? An asteroid that started out hundreds of millions of miles from here or maybe, as a messenger from a distant star and instead of hundreds of millions of miles, hundreds of millions of years...

We have a place on all this. As much as any interstellar molecule, any distant galactic core.

What a comfort the vastness has become.

DOERING: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender.



Mark Seth Lender’s website


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