Constellations

When the moon illuminates her hair, it refracts the light like a prism, casting shapes onto the sky.
This is how the constellations came about.”

The Bear, the Lion and the Snake, the Lovers and the Crown, all brought into being by a single strand of hair projected onto the heavens, past clouds and contrails. No wonder you can connect the pinpricks with those silvered lines you find on star charts. They’re just pictorial representations, analogous abstractions of the real thing.

If this is how the stars were made, however, this would mean that before this process of projection there was nothing up there, that the universe is actually truly empty. The constellations are mere images, no, they are even less, they are only insubstantial reflections, the products of refractions. Upon closer examination this does not constitute a fundamental change, though.

As physics repeatedly tells us, light travels at a fixed speed, which is – compared to the size of the (expanding) universe – severely limited. The image we get when we look at the night sky is not instantaneous, the photons emitted by stars have to travel quite a distance first before they reach the earth, enter the eye and fall onto the retina. Once detached from its source, the light becomes isolated, travelling through the vacuum all alone. It leaves the star it originated from and that’s it. In the meantime, the star may die, change its position, collide with another star. We thus always look into the past, at snapshots of the universe from way back. So we do not see stars, actually, we only take in their afterimages, which may have developed a life of their own, we don’t even know whether one particular patch of sky still is or whether it has ceased to be. And we haven’t even started taking into account the way that all sorts of luminaries bend the travelling light, how they change its course and twist its way. The uncertainty, you see, does not only concern time, it also concerns space. It follows that we also only look at representations, at projections.

The difference isn’t that big, if you ask me. The result is the same, either the sky is vast, cluttered up with an innumerable quantity of celestial bodies or it isn’t, it’s empty with nothing up there at all. Both can be equated, as both are similarly incomprehensible:

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or

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. The result is the same, in relation to that, we don’t mean anything. We don’t mean anything . . . but that’s the beauty of it.

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Constellations

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