The stars above us, twinkling overhead

Published 2:29 pm Monday, January 14, 2019

There are plenty of reasons why people might prefer country living to life in the big city. Rural areas have less traffic (barring the tractors, of course) and typically less pollution. Cities don’t tend to have as much of a connection to the beautiful landscapes Mother Nature provides except for in parks, which are nice, but still feel a bit artificial. And, perhaps the biggest difference of all, there are simply a lot less people out in the “middle of nowhere.”

But maybe one of the less appreciated reasons for preferring country life—though it’s one of my favorites—is the night sky. Stars stretch across the darkness for as far as I can see each night. They twinkle and shine when clouds don’t get in the way.

I remember many of my college friends coming to visit me at home in Northampton County while I was still a student. The ones who grew up in cities always marveled at the chance to look up at the stars. It wasn’t that they’d never seen stars before. They just hardly ever had the opportunity for it with all the streetlights and such of their homes cancelling out the view.

I was always happy to be able to share the view with my friends and see the smiles on their faces as they looked at the beautiful sight.

Even though I’ve spent a lot of my life looking up at the stars in the sky, one thing I’ve never been good at, however, is picking out constellations. I can find Orion’s belt pretty easily—it’s only three stars in a line—but that’s about it. Imagining the picture in a star constellation has always been a bit harder than answering “what do you think that cloud looks like?” questions.

Ancient astronomers across the world were a bit more imaginative than me obviously. Early civilizations created pictures around the star formations and gave them names. Today we’re probably most familiar with the zodiac constellations (like Aquarius, Pisces, Scorpius, Taurus, etc) and other popular ones like Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, and Orion.

According to, those familiar classical constellations were recorded in a book by the astronomer Ptolemy around 150 A.D. There were 48 of those in total. In the 1500’s, several astronomers decided the create some new constellations to fill in some gaps in the sky. By 1930, the International Astronomical Union made an official list of 88 constellations to make it easier for astronomers around the world to continue discussing the topic. The 88 chosen include both ancient and modern ones.

Constellation maps today look like a child’s connect-the-dots puzzle. No matter how hard I look at some of them, I still can’t see the picture. To me, Gemini just looks like an open box, Cassiopeia as a funky letter “W”, and Cygnus as a kind of crossbow? I don’t really know.

But whether I can visualize the same pictures as ancient astronomers or not, the sight of the stars twinkling overhead is still one of the most beautiful in the whole world. It’s almost crazy to believe when you realize that the lights are simply massive stars burning billions upon trillions of miles away. Some of them may have even burned out already even though the remnants of their light are still traveling towards us.

Those of us living here in the Roanoke-Chowan area don’t have to travel far at all to look up and see the starry sky each night if we wanted to. It’s all right above us. Of course, that’s not the main reason people consider when deciding whether or not they want to live here, but it is a lovely bonus.

I think it’s nice to be able to appreciate simple things like the stars from time to time. I don’t think I could ever live anywhere that I couldn’t see them.

And I definitely wouldn’t want to.


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.