Avid Fans of: Looking up at the Sky 

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. In this recurring series, we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you.

The Perseid meteor shower, known for its breathtaking display of shooting stars, will light up the sky again this summer, starting in mid-July and peaking on the night of August 12th. As the days draw nearer to this annual event, we’re reminded of the vast wonders of our universe, from the fleeting glimpse of a comet to the awe-inspiring sight of an eclipse and the mesmerizing dance of the northern lights.

In this edition of Avid Fans of, we’ll share our favorite memories of looking up at the sky and what astronomical events have fascinated us the most.

Victoria Macdonald – A shooting star at the beach

It was during a trip to the beach. My sister and I had just graduated high school, and my dad and stepmom planned a weekend trip for us to celebrate. They also wanted us to have some important discussions about college, which I was nervous about. We all went down to the beach that night to talk, and as we were lying on the sand, talking about the future, there was a flash of light before our eyes. A shooting star! It was there and gone in an instant, but it was breathtaking. The way that tiny ball of light streaked across the sky filled me with excitement, and I realized that the future, though filled with uncertainties, also held the promise of limitless opportunity.

Photo of Victoria and her family’s shadows on the beach earlier that day.

Rossana Gonzalez – The sunset in Indonesia and the Northern Lights in Iceland!

Thinking about my favorite things in the sky, I definitely have two moments that stick out. I can’t even put one above the other because I still think about both pretty equally:

I am a sucker for a nice scenic view. When I travel, I love both nature and skyline views, just as long as I have a good view. I took a trip to Bali with a group of friends in 2019, and one of the highlights was seeing the sunset on one of the days. That day, we went to a restaurant by the water and the sun was setting right as we were wrapping up dinner. The sunset was so beautiful that it made me emotional. A lot of us at the restaurant had to get up and record it. I watched someone recording it in a time-lapse style. It was pink, orange, white, and had hints of baby blue. Cameras did not do it justice. I have not seen one as beautiful ever since.

The second view that left me out of words was seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). I was on a flight to France that made a stop in Iceland. While approaching Iceland, I could see the volcanoes from my window and was having a great time just seeing that. Then, the flight attendant announced that the Northern Lights were visible from the left-hand side of the plane. I could not believe it. I have a friend who has been chasing the Northern Lights in different countries for years and has been unable to see them. I was on the right-hand side of the plane and was worried that I wouldn’t get to see it.

Fortunately, there were a lot of selfless people on the plane who allowed others to take their seat for a few minutes to be able to get a view. That is when I got to see the Northern Lights. It felt like it was magic. Both views evoked an emotion in me that I couldn’t explain and would not be able to fully explain now. Both times, I felt a sense of peace. You sometimes forget you are a little speck in the universe. It was my reminder to slow down, take a breather, look up, and be grateful.

Photo of a sunset in Indonesia and the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Albert Johns – Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

The warm air was still. The mood was light. We had just enjoyed an evening at my brother’s house in Ashburn and we were getting ready to leave until we looked up at the sky. With nervous excitement, we all pointed to the sky. To our amazement, we saw bright lights hovering and circling the area. Did we all just witness an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)? The UAP did not make a sound and it appeared to hover, changing direction, emitting blinding lights. We ran up and down the street trying to keep eyes on what appeared to be a life-changing event. In June 2013 a solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse, successfully flew across the US and landed at Dulles International Airport. We were bummed.

Photo of the ultra-light Solar Impulse plane.  
Photograph by Matt York/AP.

Stephanie Mace – The Last Space Shuttle Launch STS-135

I left the Kennedy Space Center 13 years ago with an adrenaline hangover and concern that we would never see such an incredible sight again. I had witnessed something that shook me to the core. The smartest & bravest launched a courageous team of astronauts into space. I was extremely fortunate to be a “Tweep” at the STS-135 shuttle launch on July 8, 2011. The bright flame, plume of smoke, the sounds, the vibrations, sense of hope, the smells and overwhelming rush of emotions are memories I will hold onto forever.

Stephanie’s photo of the launch of STS-135 on July 8, 2011.

Amanda Roberts – Partial Solar Eclipse

I wasn’t in the path of the total solar eclipse this April, but it was still cool to be able to experience the eeriness of my neighborhood as the sun was partially covered and the appearance of an early dusk set in. Avid Core offered an hour off for staff to enjoy the phenomenon. I took advantage of the hour and walked with my son around the neighborhood glancing up at the sky every now and then.

Partial solar eclipse in Virginia. Photography by Danika Barone, 13News Now.

Alex Russell – Finding Perspective in the Cosmos

As much as I love the concept of UFOs and do, in fact, believe in extraterrestrial life, from microbes to intelligent beings, I have unfortunately never experienced a UFO sighting. However, there have been times, out in my yard late at night, when the stars seemed so vast and clear–Orion’s Belt there, Ursa Major there–that I couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder and peace.

The knowledge that the light from these distant, distant stars (and reflected off certain planets) takes an extensive amount of time to travel through space and reach my eyes makes me pause and consider relativity, both as an aspect of “hard” science but also as a theme in daily life. The stars I’m seeing at night are not the same stars emitting that light; if those stars could see me somehow, they’d be seeing a version of myself that, according to my immediate experience, no longer exists.

In this sense, physical relativity as it applies to time and space also applies to our lives and the various little changes and challenges that we experience all the time. One day everything is fine, the next everything is falling apart, or, by way of another example, a uniquely terrible period in your life may feel never-ending. I think it can be important and even beneficial to take this concept of relativity and apply it on a day-by-day basis, or even hour-by-hour.

Things change all the time. The you from this morning will not be the same you later that day–and that’s okay. (Biologically, all our cells are regenerated on a recurring basis; physically, the “you” that you are today will not be the same “you” in, say, 50 years.) This constant change invites all kinds of experiences, good and bad, as well as different realizations; reflecting on this dynamic can also help ground you to the present moment.

Somewhere in there, in that overabundant nighttime visage of stellar lights, or in the often-times exasperating storm of life and responsibilities, there is the knowledge that “all things must pass.” On the other side of that sacred, ancient knowledge is something akin to hope.

The globular cluster, NGC 2298. NASA.

Alexander Watts – Inspiring Constellations

My wife loves Greek and Roman mythology.  As such, she also loves identifying constellations on clear summer nights.  I, a philistine at heart, get frustrated as she points out a string of stars and knowingly identifies it as if it were common knowledge.  After a few minutes, I dig into my Simpsons references and identify the Chariot Race:

The only person who gets my reference is my daughter who I indoctrinated early in life. 

However, I relented and began reading Greek mythology and finally appreciate the link between the night sky and humanity.  The same constellations we witness inspired cultures thousands of years ago to invent stories told today.  One of my favorite books I read in the last year, Circe by Madelline Miller, is a retelling of Greek myths and is a masterclass on human nature and motivation.

Photo from an episode of the Simpsons (Season 6 Episode E14: Bart’s Comet). Skinner shows Bart the constellations.