One wintry Minnesota morning when I was nine or ten, in the cold, dark hours before the sun would peek over the snowy woods and fields to the east of our farm, my mother shook me awake and asked me to go outside with her. I followed her downstairs, where she put on her old green parka and I, blinkingly, fumbled into my downy coat and snowpants. We went outside and she pointed to the night sky. At once I was filled with wonder and fear.
The aurora borealis, the Northern Lights, stretched and writhed in the sky above like a shimmering emerald snake wrapped around the world. As my mother walked to the barn, a milk pail dangling in her hand, I cowered beside her while stealing glances at the sky. As she went about her chores in the barnyard, I hid inside a doorway and peered upwards. For the first time in my life, I became aware of something utterly, even incomprehensibly, beyond myself. In that moment, I became like the stargazers of the Middle Ages, who looked on the night sky and saw not mere radiation and configurations of gas particles but the gates of heaven itself.
Around the same time, on the other side of the planet, the night sky of the Australian outback captured the imagination of another youth. Sean Murray, an Irishman whose family transplanted to the outback during his childhood, spent his evenings spellbound by the vast, twinkling vision of the Milky Way galaxy that blanketed the night sky. Unobscured by the light pollution of cities, Murray’s sky glittered and glistened in luminous brilliance. Murray grew up to be a programmer and video game developer. He worked on a variety of different projects and eventually launched a small, independent game studio called Hello Games. Through it all he never gave up on ...1