Stargazing in Grand Central Terminal

In New York City it is not easy to see the stars.

The moon, yes. A fine sight is a full moon framed by buildings on the street where I live. At night, coming home to a dark apartment, moonlight fills the rooms.

But my vibrant city teems with such energy round the clock, producing so much light of its own, that the distant, far brighter stars cannot compete. They are drowned out.

Astronomers like to place their observatories at dark locations. Forget New York City, with its "Great White Way" of Broadway. With the Empire State, Chrysler, and Woolworth buildings illuminated at night. With the massive bridges linking the city's islands to each other and to the mainland, festooned with lights. With the less dramatic wattage emitted by the living-room lamps of millions of apartment dwellers. With the headlights of vehicles traveling the city's 6,400 miles of streets, night and day.

Even over Central Park, the night sky is ablaze - not with the brightness of celestial bodies, but with the light from palatial hotels bordering the southern end of the park, and illuminated skyscraper signs informing New Yorkers about weather conditions and the time.

For stars, I go to Grand Central Terminal and gaze at the sky ceiling, not light years away, but a mere 125 feet above the main concourse. There I find 2,500 stars. Sixty are illuminated by electric lights of varying intensity to emulate the twinkling of stars. In this depiction of a daytime and nighttime winter and spring sky, 10 constellations appear.

These are my stars. I don't mind that the proper order of the constellations is reversed, a mistake noted by an astute commuter soon after the terminal's opening in 1913.

One day, business takes me to City Hall, to the main reading room of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, and to Grand Central Terminal. I consider myself very fortunate to experience these three magnificent landmarks in the space of a few hours. On that occasion, as on all my visits to the terminal, I pause for a few moments to gaze at the sky.

In the country, beneath the real sky, my knowledge of the stars does not extend beyond identifying the Big Dipper. But gazing at the sky ceiling, I am able to point out to any interested visitor to the city, or a commuter waiting for a train, Orion brandishing his club, and the other constellations.

Astronomers may shake their heads in dismay, but I enjoy talking about my stars.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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