When The Stars Are Out of Alignment


Welcome. I can’t see a lot of stars from my house; the light pollution of New York City obscures all but the brightest ones. Whenever I leave the city, I spend a lot of time looking up at the night sky, marveling at the continued existence of the cosmos and earth’s place in it. The earth where, as Carl Sagan wrote, “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives” is but “a mote suspended in a sunbeam,” it’s “a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”

If you have a moment this weekend, open your Chrome browser on a desktop computer and spend some time with 100,000 Stars, a 3-D visualization of the “stellar neighborhood.” Take a spin through the solar system. Visit individual stars within constellations with the click of a mouse. It’s a far cry from gazing through an actual telescope, but for those of us at a remove from the “vault of heaven,” it’s one way to connect.

In “Burden of Dreams,” a documentary about the cursed production of his 1982 film “Fitzcarraldo,” the filmmaker Werner Herzog, in a famously outrageous monologue about the intractability of the Amazonian jungle, complains that “even the stars up here in the sky look like a mess.” I have always loved that line and wondered if Herzog meant in his description to define the word “disaster,” which can be translated from ancient Greek to mean “bad star,” or, as I read it, “the stars are out of alignment.”

It’s too romantic and unscientific a definition of bad fortune to explain actual disaster, of course, but turning to art is one way to make sense of the world, to frame and reframe our experience, and I’ll be doing just that this weekend. I’ve yet to watch Herzog’s most recent film, “Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds,” in which he talks to scientists about meteors and comets and their effects on the earth. I’ll listen to the old Nada Surf album, “The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy.” The irresistible videos explaining red dwarfs, black holes and neutron stars by the German animation studio Kurzgesagt will take up the better part of an afternoon.

What about you? How are you making sense of the world? What will you watch or read or discuss or think about this weekend to get clarity, if that’s what you seek? How will you spend the time? Write to us: [email protected] Include your name, age and location. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for passing the time and making sense of the universe appear below. See you next week.


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