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Look Up In The Sky And Live Big

The Milky Way arches above the European Southern Observatory's facility at Cerro Paranal in Chile's Atacama Desert.
Y. Beletsky
The Milky Way arches above the European Southern Observatory's facility at Cerro Paranal in Chile's Atacama Desert.

We live in a galaxy of 100 billion stars. That's a one-hundred-thousand million suns, joined together by their mutual gravity in the shape of disk, all swirling around a common center.

A 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy and how many have you seen in the last week? How many have you stopped to notice?

The sad truth is that most of us (myself included) live in the midst of city glare. On any given night it feels like we can barely see a handful of stars (OK, maybe handfuls of handfuls). Worse still, lost in our worries, we barely look up and let the light of those few cosmic emissaries we can see work their magic and get us out of our heads.

But it's almost summer and summer is the time of stars. With just a little effort we can get ourselves out to a park or a field or any place where streetlights are blocked and the stars can make their appearance. But more important than just stars is the Milky Way — the diffuse band of light that defines the disk of stars our sun is embedded within. If you can get far enough out into the country, the Milky Way can be be seen in all its glory. Get yourself into a slower headspace and spend a good hour watching the Milky Way slowly pivot across the sky; it is something far more than just entertainment.

In that spirit I give you this time-lapse work of sky art entitled YIKÁÍSDÁHÁ by photographer Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinović. YIKÁÍSDÁHÁ is Navajo for Milky Way or "That Which Awaits the Dawn." There are remarkable views here of the cloud crossing skies over the American west, the Milky Way and the bowl of stars spinning around the North Star. Combining a documentarian's eye and the poet's interpretive sensibilities YIKÁÍSDÁHÁ's four minutes will, hopefully, serve as inspiration to get you (and me) out under the stars this summer.

(Hint: Use HD; make it full screen; crank up the volume!)

You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4.

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Adam Frank was a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.