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Archive for the 'Stargazing' Category

A few observations

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

A year ago or so, I started to get interested in stargazing. Last year, we made a concerted effort, a couple of nights, to go out and watch the Perseid meteor shower. I even took a few photos of meteors.

The last week or so has been very interesting, in terms of stargazing. A few nights this week, I saw shooting stars while out walking the dog before bed. It was only later I realized that the Perseids were back. Since we’ve had a very bright Full Sturgeon Moon and cloudy skies several nights, my intentional attempts at seeing meteors were unsuccessful.

However, last night made for some excellent viewing, even if I didn’t see any meteors. Once again, while walking the dog, I watched the sky basically the whole time. A storm had passed through town, and a huge mass of cumulonimbus clouds was still visible in the east, illuminated from above by the full moon. The light struck the clouds at an oblique angle, and the depth and texture of the cloud were well visible. Meanwhile, lightning flashed through more storm clouds to the north.

However, the tall, dense clouds in the east were now moving away from us. There was a swatch of open sky, with many constellations visible, and soon another mass of lower cloud cover blew in from the west. I literally stood there and watched a new, thick layer of clouds blow over. It washed over me, and rain began to fall once again.

It’s quite amazing to watch these events unfold in real time. And I saw all this in probably less than 15 minutes outdoors. Once again, even though I didn’t see any meteors, amazing events were unfolding above, I just had to take a few minutes to watch them.

So, my casual interest in stargazing is paying off. It’s a lot of fun and doesn’t have to be time-consuming, or expensive. I have some binoculars, but lately I’ve just been observing with the naked eye.

It helps to get yourself oriented in the sky, and find some constellations to help you put everything in perspective. I’ve used a couple different star chart books for this, but lately I’ve discovered another method. If you have an Android phone, you can download Google Sky Map. This thing is incredible. You point it where you’re looking and it tells you what you’re looking at. You can spin it around in different directions to identify other objects. Or, you can do a search, if you are looking for something specific.

If you have an iPhone, I’m sure there’s something similar available — I’ve read that Star Walk is good.

However you do it, I suggest taking a few minutes a couple nights per week and seeing what you can see. Whether you’re getting a better sense of the vast depth of our universe, or watching local weather events (or both), you just might find something interesting.

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