Valley Skies: Contemplating interstellar neighbours

These evenings, after bright Venus sets south-west, look east-north-east later for very noticeable Jupiter rising.

These evenings, after bright Venus sets south-west, look east-north-east later for very noticeable Jupiter rising. As Earth swings around the sun and we look outward to the late autumn-winter constellations, the familiar three-star belt of hunter Orion rises soon in our east. (Depending on how current visitor comet ISON fares in its loop around our Sun on November 28th, it may also be something to note in the twilight.)

Not so noticeable — unless you have special research facilities — are numerous newfound planets around stars out there. Invisible to most of us, maybe, but we can see those exoplanets with our imagination, and wonder. Some seem at the right temperature for life. Who is out there?

Some of us may say, “Don’t let them know we are here!” For safety’s sake, or just for privacy, or to keep things as they are. Consider, however, if anyone is there and has the very advanced technology to actually get here, they probably got to that stage by working through all the hazards of growing civilizations — and learned to be good neighbours.

Plus, they likely know we are here, from faint Earth broadcasts or from scoping out our atmosphere that definitely says chemicals of civilization!

If they actually do show up, I suggest calling them “interstellar neighbours,” a warmer, friendlier name than other labels we might apply.

This reminds me how someone once suggested a gate be built at Olive Lake in Kootenay National Park to protect the valley from Calgarians!

But consider this — potential interstellar neighbours, instead of being after our resources, maybe would simply like to get away from a super-advanced, supercharged world and find a place to visit for peace and refreshment, just as do many from the metropolis over the Rockies.

While researching other writing topics, under “Citizenship” I found an intriguing way Girl Guides can work towards a badge — by imagining. If they could actually visit a civilization out there, what items would they take to share what Earth is about?

And as we adults and our children look up at night, what might we find we cherish about our valley and mountains to share with others out there?

It might be things from around our world, but especially from our valley. What things do we find give balance to our lives? What about our pace and peace of living? Our wilds?

If many possible answers arise, ask yourself what will still seem important five, ten or twenty years from now. What will grandchildren, students, friends know you valued?

In terms of the stars, even twenty years is just the briefest wink in time, but what you deeply care about is something even the whole universe and time cannot change.

Interesting, isn’t it, how the far-off stars and imagined beings out there can guide us back to our innermost being.

Brian Fenerty is a semi-retired valley resident and an esteemed member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Contact him at