Last night several hundred islanders gathered at Jimmy's Garage for Ocracoke's annual Christmas pig pickin', pot luck dinner, and dance. Jimmy's is the cleanest garage you can imagine. The floor was virtually spotless. Picnic tables were lined up, and tables were piled high with all manner of delicious fare. From 5:00 to 7:30 folks ate, visited, chased after young-uns, laughed, and told stories. The dance commenced at 8:00 and continued long into the night.
A couple of dozen islanders left the party around 8:30 to gather on the walkover ramp at the lifeguard beach. The night was clear and the sky was studded with stars*. In every direction we looked twinkling lights covered the heavens. The Milky Way looked like it had been painted across the dome of the sky with a magical brush.
Shortly after 8:45 the cry was heard. "There it is." Hurtling toward us from the southwest was a bright, shining dot. The space shuttle streaked by, rather low on the horizon, as we all fell silent and watched. It was difficult to imagine that the shuttle was climbing. It looked like it might just barely clear the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone and out of sight.
The night air was cold and crisp. Most of us walked back to our cars, awed both by the canopy of stars overhead and the accomplishment of our fellow humans.
* According to http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=742414 & http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/space/07/22/stars.survey/ we could probably see about 2000 stars last night of the 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 in the known universe. According to CNN, "Astronomers say there are more stars than grains of sand in all of Earth's deserts and beaches." That's a lot of stars!