An A-Z of the night sky


Matt Gaw’s Under the Stars is part diary, part self-exploration, and part clarion call for change. 

 

Matt Gaw is a writer and naturalist from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Under the Stars is his second book, the idea for which was sparked by a conversation with his young son about the unfairness of his bedtime. A teacher had told his son that we spend a third of our lives asleep and to the boy that meant missing out on far too much. Gaw reflected on what exactly he might be missing, and subsequently embarked on a series of journeys in order to experience the day-night cycle anew.

The book is a record of those journeys and it is part diary, part self-exploration, and part clarion call for change. Above all, it is a kind of cultural A-Z of the night sky and everything connected, dense in its references to literature, philosophy, nature, history, science, religion and folklore. You could say it’s illuminating in more ways than one.

Gaw begins his investigations on the beach at Covehithe in East Anglia where he gives his full attention to sunset, twilight, a full moon and, on a repeat visit, an electrical storm. He is amazed at the intensity of the moon’s glow – apparently it reflects the sun’s rays twice, both directly and as a bounce-back from the Earth’s surface.

Next, motivated by satellite photographs of Britain at night, he visits the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory at Dalmellington in an attempt to see stars in their true magnificence. Initially, he stumbles around blindly, realising how maladapted he is for night-time navigation. But he adjusts and is overwhelmed by the vastness and clarity of a starscape without competition.

A third trip takes him to north Dartmoor, where he contemplates mankind’s instinctive fear of the dark while journeying on …read more

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