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Perseid meteor shower: why are we so fascinated by the night sky?

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Megan Murray
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It feels like everyone we know is a budding astronomer, but why are we so interested in the stars right now?

This week the annual Perseid meteor shower which usually runs from mid-July to the end of August will be at its most visible, which means the internet is awash with well-read guides on how to see it (head to an area with little light pollution on the 11 and 12 August, and lie on the ground to let your eyes adjust to the dark, if you were wondering).

Once, this kind of information would have been reserved for astronomy magazines but now you’ll find it everywhere, as more and more of us develop a keen interest in the stars. 

It’s not just celestial spectacles like the Perseid meteor shower or last month’s comet Neowise that’s got us excited, though. There was the Full Buck Moon, which was deemed important because it is the first full moon of the summer. And earlier in the year there was the rare Super Flower Moon, which was pegged as a huge moment of celestial importance as it was last super moon of the year.

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No longer just for the experts, it seems everyone – from your best mate to your nan – wants to know about the latest celestial happenings. But why?

Someone who knows a thing or two about the millennial fascination with the night sky is author of Lunar Living: Working with the Magic of the Moon Cycles, Kirsty Gallagher. Gallagher has studied the moon’s cycles for years and has come to understand what she believes are the ways we are affected by them, from feeling emotionally stuck in a rut to experiencing stronger instincts.

An advocate of living your life in accordance to these phases, Gallagher has even set up an online community of sisterhood, where women can come together to celebrate new moons and discuss how they’re feeling throughout the month.

She believes that our enthrallment with astronomy has become even more intense in lockdown. “I truly believe that humans are fascinated by the nights sky as it makes us feel part of something greater,” Gallagher says to Stylist.co.uk.

“Especially since the beginning of Covid-19, I feel that people are looking for something to believe in, that there is something bigger at play,” she continues. 

It makes sense. While many of us are still stuck at home for the majority of the time, a form of escapism may well come in looking up and imagining a world so much bigger than ourselves. It also gives us something to research and read up on, when our usual interests and hobbies aren’t happening.

Particularly in regards to the Neowise comet, Gallagher explains that in a time of devastation and negativity, this rare and special sighting offers a glimmer of hope and togetherness.

“I feel that seeing the Neowise comet gave people a sense of wonder and awe, and that miracles are possible. Looking up at a shining comet takes us out of our mundane human experience into something more magical and mystical. It shows us that there are still wonderful things happening in the natural world (even if what’s happening in ours feels dark), and witnessing this makes us feel part of this rare moment in time,” she says.

“Seeing such a magical natural phenomena for that moment connects us to the infinity of life, of the wonders that are possible and perhaps in that moment reminds us that we are all made of stardust.”

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Gallagher also notes that humans have been looking to the sky for hundreds of years and even though our civilisation has changed a lot, many of us still search the heavens for answers in one way of another. 

She explains: “Our ancestors used the sky to mark the passage of time, to navigate and to look for answers and I feel that on some instinctual level we still do the same – we look to the skies for answers and direction. To give us hope and make us feel that anything is possible.”

Ultimately, Gallagher thinks that the night’s sky captivates us because it makes us forget about our usual worries for a moment: “There is the wonderful quote that we are all made of stardust, and when we gaze up at the night sky it seems that we merge with that infinite part of ourselves. 

“Gazing up at stars that are billions of years old reminds us of the infinity of life, it removes boundaries and limitations and takes us out of our day to day human worries, making life on earth seem quite small. It creates a sense of wonder and awe for life and gives a feeling of limitless potential, expanding us beyond our thinking minds. There is something about the night sky that the human brain can’t quite comprehend and so I feel in those moments we are captivated by the night sky that it is our heart, our soul that is witnessing the moment. It makes us present.”

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Images: Getty Images

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.