Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

The community lounge for non-Narnian discussions.

Moderators: stargazer, johobbit

Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby stargazer » Aug 13, 2011 10:01 pm

“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
- “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil,” Sarah Williams

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?”
- Psalm 8:3,4


“….I let the scope glide slowly upward until, guided more by habit than by conscious help from me, it comes to rest on a misty little group of stars. Once again, as on uncounted other nights, I see:

... the Pleaids, rising through the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fireflies
Tangled in a silver braid
.
-from Locksley Hall by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

So clear and sparkling is the autumn night that, with averted vision, I can see quite readily the wraithlike wisps of nebulosity that festoon and enmesh this entire little cluster. Something else I see too. Something wrapped in wisps of memory. Something that I always see each time I look at the Pleiades. I see a small Ohio farmhouse, a little boy, and a tall kitchen window that faced the east.”
- Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer, Leslie Peltier

“Shine on, shine on Harvest Moon, up in the sky…”
- composer Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks; sung by Dean Martin


From the deeply profound to the whimsical, from philosophy to poetry and song, the night sky has filled men and women with wonder for generations. The ever-changing face of the moon, the spectacular starry dome, the wandering planets, seemingly unpredictable comets and eclipses – all have drawn our attention to something glorious beyond our everyday lives and the ordinary world.

Image

Earthrise from Apollo 8

Astronomy grew out of this attraction to the night sky, as well as a desire to understand and explain what was seen in it – to assign order and predictability to the ethereal mysteries seen above.

The last 40 years or so have seen an incredible explosion in our understanding of the sky, thanks to space probes sent to explore the planets, along with new and bigger telescopes to peer deep into the heavens. Beautiful pictures from the Hubble or International Space Station are commonplace these days, and our desktop computers offer more computing power than professional astronomers had even when I was a child. Theories of the universe’s origin and the nature of stars and planets, and even discoveries of planets outside our solar system, have all flourished in recent years.

Image

The Eagle Nebula’s “Pillars of Creation” as seen by the Hubble

Yet in addition to all this, there’s still something about getting out under the night sky and enjoying it for yourself. Like bird watching, rock collecting, and other nature-related hobbies, there’s a sense of satisfaction in identifying what you’re seeing: stepping out at night and recognizing the various twinkling specks as old friends, each one a unique individual with its own name.

And as Leslie Peltier’s quote above illustrates, the sky provides a connection to our past – not only our own childhood memories, but even with generations of stargazers past and future. The sky over Cairo tonight is much like the one the ancient Egyptians saw when they built the pyramids, and is the same one that will shine a century from now.

And online predictions make it easy to step outside some night and watch as the International Space Station passes overhead or an Iridium satellite momentarily flares brightly - or to get hints and predictions for special events such as eclipses and meteor showers.

Welcome to the Astronomy thread – your place to:

- share your own observations of the sky
- share fond childhood – or recent – memories of things you’ve seen in the sky
- comment on astronomical events (like “Today is the winter solstice,” or “There’s an eclipse here tomorrow”)
- mention some bit of astronomy-related news you’ve seen
- plug your favorite astronomical websites (please tell us why you like them!)
- ask questions (anything goes, from “What’s that bright star in the east around midnight?” to “When is Halley’s Comet coming back?”)

Enjoy!


I’ll close with a bit of humor from amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier’s autobiography. As a youth he built his own observatory with a removable roof. If the weather looked nice he’d sometimes leave the roof off the following day. But rapidly-changing conditions meant he occasionally had to interrupt whatever he was doing to rush home to replace the roof before the telescope got wet. His sister wrote the following poem to mark those occasions:

Our hero felt the wind's first lash.
He saw the distant lightning's flash.
"My dear," he cried, "I shall return
Some other night with lips that burn.
Right now I've got to dash for home,
For I forgot to close the dome."



Credits:

- The title of this thread is an homage to Leslie Peltier’s highly-recommended autobiography, Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer
- Thanks to johobbit for providing various Starlight Nights quotes!
"The eclipse will melt your spine!'

- Overheard in a telephone pictionary game, August 2017
User avatar
stargazer
Moderator
 
Posts: 21444
Joined: Mar 28, 2004
Location: by a campfire

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Ithilwen » Aug 14, 2011 1:27 am

It was funny. When I got up this morning, I was actually searching the boards for an astronomy related thread. I couldn't find one, so I was going to make one as soon as I got home. But I see Stargazer has beat me to it. ;))

I went out at 4:40 AM last night to go look at the sky, to see the meteor shower, and the space station pass by. I didn't see the space station that I know of. And I'm afraid I didn't see much of a meteor shower either. :( Although I did see one briefly out of the corner of my eye...

My mom saw 3. :|

;))

Did anyone else go out to see it? :)


~Riella =:)
User avatar
Ithilwen
NarniaWeb Zealot
 
Posts: 5886
Joined: Jul 18, 2010
Location: Taking over the world while twirling my evil girlstache.
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby narnian_at_heart » Aug 14, 2011 9:55 am

Well, I'm no astronomer but I do enjoy looking at the stars at night. I live two miles away from town and there's no streetlights so when the lights are off in the house, I can see stars! I have always pitied people who live in cities and can't see stars because of all the light polution. I live where it's overcast a lot so seeing stars is somewhat rare.

It's a joke here in Alaska that we don't look North to see the North Star, we look up! Which is pretty accurate, actually. :p

This summer, when I was in Ecuador, I saw the Southern Cross for the first time! Despite being below the Equator when I was in Peru a few years ago, Peru was over cast most of the time because it was their winter so I never saw stars while there. Anyway, it was really cool to see the Southern Cross!
Image
User avatar
narnian_at_heart
NarniaWeb Guru
 
Posts: 2365
Joined: Oct 11, 2009
Location: Alaska
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby johobbit » Aug 14, 2011 12:37 pm

stargazer, your knowledge and passion of this awesome subject comes across so clearly in your warm and informative Intro. Thank you! :)

My love of the night sky goes way back, but unfortunately I never pursued it when I was younger as I now wish I had. Yet, any time the universe came up in school in geography, I always felt my heart beat faster, and that longing for learning more filled me. I say that as an adult, but as a child or young person, it was more "Woohoo, a unit on space!" ;)) I feel I know so very little, but am all the more fascinated by the night sky.

It has only been in the past decade, when I've had a bit more time, that I have actively pursued dabbling in furthering my very limited scope of this vast subject. Others on this forum are so much more knowledgeable and I have learned a fair bit from them. I particularly thank stargazer, as through PMs and emails, as well as on the forum here, he has imparted his love of the night sky, along his broad knowledge and his many own observing experiences. I remember looking for Comet Holmes, when it became visible to the naked eye in October, 2007: my family was outside, and I'd be running in and out, conversing with stargazer so as to pinpoint it directly, which, with his specific help, we finally did. :)

I do wish I had kept more specific logs over the years, which I know some have: they must be fascinating and nostalgic to review.

Ithilwen, I was outside between 3:30 and 4:15 (EDT) the other night, scanning the sky for meteors from the Perseid shower. The moon was very bright, 'though it was beginning to sink in the SW, but there was also a light, spotty cloud cover, which hampered the viewing, yet I did glimpse some very bright meteors over that timeframe ... always a treat. :)

Ithilwen, you mentioned the International Space Station passes. It looks like a steadily-moving star, and varies in magnitude. (From what I recall, a -3.5 mag pass is quite bright for the ISS.) Do you know the site heavens-above? You can plug in your location, and it will give you specific predictions for your area. I keep a running weekly chart of when ISS passes will occur, as well as the Iridium flares, another delight stargazer introduced us to: these are when the sun hits the satellite's solar panels just so, creating very bright flashes. At last year's Moot in Ohio, we had particularly one grand star-gazing evening, observing not only magnificentJupiter rising in the sky, but also a number of Iridium flares, as well as an ISS pass. Great memories! And even moreso because it was with other NarniaWebbers. :D

narnian_at_heart, how lovely you live a bit out-of-town. And very cool about the North Star. We have a lot of trees where we live, but thankfully there's a dip in the branches right where the North Star is. ;))
And wow, you saw the Southern Cross. That would indeed be a treat and a thrill!

I could go on and on, but I must say I do recommend Peltier's book, Starlight Nights that stargazer quoted from above. He recommended the title to me a few years back, and it has become a beloved book: warmly-written, filled with astronomical information, yet a delightful read for laymen. Folksy, memories of a simpler time (early 1900s), it is nostalgic and makes one want to venture back to his world.

Well, I've rambled long enough for now, but I can see this becoming a favourite Spare Oom topic for me. :)
Image
User avatar
johobbit
Moderator
 
Posts: 14885
Joined: Feb 06, 2007
Location: Ontario, Canada ... under the northern sky
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Aslanisthebest » Aug 14, 2011 7:30 pm

Aah, I love looking at the stars. However, the only thing that I'm good at viewing is the big dipper and then the little dipper. We used to live out in the suburbs where there were not many lights, so the sky had so many clusters of bright stars. Over there I could notice Orion well, with his noticable belt. :)
Over here, it's pretty rural but there's a lot of lights, so stars are not terribly viewable.

However, tonight on a walk, I noticed the moon was larger, closer, and all red looking. What is this? I'd love to know what it really is!! :)

Seeing the sky when all the stars are out with no light to dim them is sufficiently beautiful to look at, but I'd really like to know more about the stars and all. ;))
I am at loss in searching for suitable material to learn more about it. Would y'all know a good book that doesn't focus on astrology and all that stuff, that gives a good information on astronomy to a beginner? :) "Starlit Nights" I'll go check that one out!
Image
RL Sibling: CSLewisNarnia
User avatar
Aslanisthebest
Moderator Emeritus
 
Posts: 5623
Joined: May 18, 2008
Location: Here

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Shadowlander » Aug 14, 2011 9:52 pm

I love amateur astronomy! I've been in love with space for as long as I've been alive, but it was seeing the original Star Wars in the movie theater in 1977 that really brought it all together, as well as getting to see some of the wonderful Voyager 1 and 2 probe pictures of Jupiter not long afterwards.

If you're thinking of getting into stargazing it's really not hard at all and all you really need is a dinky little star chart and some binoculars. Any size will do. :)

Aslanisthebest wrote:However, the only thing that I'm good at viewing is the big dipper and then the little dipper.


You're already halfway home ;)). The Big Dipper in particular is a sort of intergalactic sign post to other constellations. Learning constellations isn't nearly as hard as one would think....it's sort of like learning the US States or European countries where the brightest stars are kind of like capital cities and then figuring out where the borders are. You start by learning the most obvious constellations (The Big Dipper (or Ursa Major), Orion, etc.) and and then looking at a star chart to see perhaps what's above it and below it, or to the sides. Then go outside and look for the key stars in that constellation and learn the adjacent constellations next to it. Pretty soon you'll have a dozen under your belt and will know them just by looking around for a few seconds. :)

Let's take the Big Dipper first :D

Image

We'll start off with the basics. See the two stars on the extreme right of the image that make up the bowl of the dipper? *points* If you follow those two stars in a straight line they lead you right to Polaris, or the North Star (or Spear Head if you're in Narnia ;))) The second star from the left is Mizar, and is actually (if you squint) a double star, that is two stars that are so close together that they're often confused for one big star. On a real clear night you can "split" them with the naked eye, but if you're in a heavily light polluted area you may need binoculars.

Here's another way to use the Big Dipper as a signpost to other places :D...remember this mnemonic: "Follow the Arc to Arcturus, then Speed on to Spica". Using the curve of the Big Dipper's handle you can follow the imaginary "arc" to it's conclusion. :)

Image

Another is "the hole in the bowl will drip on Leo". If you take the star Megrez (the star that joins the handle to the bowl) and the star Phecda and run an imaginary straight line out from it you'll eventually hit Regulus, the brightest star in the Leo constellation. Also if you look just below the bowl of the Big Dipper this is the area where the famous Hubble "Deep Field" image was taken.

Image

They pointed the Hubble telescope at a seemingly empty spot in space and let it sit there for a few days to gather light. When they got the images back they were astounded to find thousands of galaxies in this tiny little sliver of space. If this does not put you in awe of God's power nothing will! It'll take us eternity to explore it all. B-)

Well, that's just a little snippet, and I'm nowhere near as experienced at this as stargazer is, but just wanted to point out how easy it is to get sucked into this wonderful hobby and that it doesn't by any means require a $2000 telescope to enjoy. :D
Kennel Keeper of Fenris Ulf


Image
User avatar
Shadowlander
Moderator Emeritus
This Space For Rent
 
Posts: 2986
Joined: Nov 30, 2005
Location: Vault 13
Gender: Male

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby wolfloversk » Aug 15, 2011 10:01 am

Oh fun topic! I love looking at the stars! Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (as pointed above the Big and Little Dippers) are both very easily seen from my house, and I've spotted Orion multiple times at college. Unfortunately my house is surrounded by trees, and at college there's a ton of light pollution and clouds thanks to our location, but I manage. I saw some constellation last year, but there was a disagreement between me and my dad as to what it was. And my friend who's the expert in these matters couldn't help... :(

This year is the second year in a row I missed the Perseid Meteor shower, thanks to the full moon and the trees located on every side of our house. Last year... suffice to say we got rained out.

One of these days (er.. nights) I'm gonna get my dad to take me on the trail where there is less trees and more sky... (and more animals ;) )

The two constellations I really want to see and haven't yet are Leo and Scorpius.
Avi by AstrowolfD
User avatar
wolfloversk
NarniaWeb Zealot
The Riddle Master
 
Posts: 6742
Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Location: Jurassic World
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Shadowlander » Aug 15, 2011 10:59 am

wolfloversk wrote:The two constellations I really want to see and haven't yet are Leo and Scorpius.


Leo can be tough to spot sometimes (along with a lot of other constellations). Sometimes it's easier to use what's called "asterisms" which are basically familiar shapes people come up with to assign to a grouping of stars. Leo has a number of stars which form the shape of a sickle. In fact sometimes it's called the Sickle. ;))

Image

The Sickle makes up the head and front legs of the lion, like so:

Image

Scorpius is a summer constellation but even so it's still hard to see at times because it tends to be down close to the horizon. The guide star you're looking for is Antares, a bright orange star (its name means "rival of Mars" as they both look similar) that forms the center of Scorpius. Antares is sometimes called the "heart of the Scorpion". :)

Image

Image
Kennel Keeper of Fenris Ulf


Image
User avatar
Shadowlander
Moderator Emeritus
This Space For Rent
 
Posts: 2986
Joined: Nov 30, 2005
Location: Vault 13
Gender: Male

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby daughter of the King » Aug 15, 2011 11:17 am

I love watching the night sky. The only constellations I can find easily are the Dippers and Orion, but I am trying to find the rest of them. I have spotted Leo a couple of times.

What I really like watching is the moon, odd as that may sound. For one thing, it's easy to find. ;)) For another, it's appearance changes quite a bit. I shall never forget the awe of staying up late to watch a lunar eclipse.

I suppose part of my love for the night sky has stemmed from my love of science fiction. Exploring strange new worlds and all that jazz fascinates me.
Narniaweb sister to Pattertwig's Pal
User avatar
daughter of the King
Moderator
Princess Dot
 
Posts: 2354
Joined: Sep 22, 2009
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby wolfloversk » Aug 15, 2011 11:53 am

daughter of the King wrote:What I really like watching is the moon, odd as that may sound. For one thing, it's easy to find. ;)) For another, it's appearance changes quite a bit. I shall never forget the awe of staying up late to watch a lunar eclipse.
Oh I love looking at the moon... I also like watching the eclipse. I especially like the full moon, because I can see outside better (in the winter it's especially wonderful!) And when it's at either crescent it looks stunning!

I suppose part of my love for the night sky has stemmed from my love of science fiction. Exploring strange new worlds and all that jazz fascinates me.


Same here... although if I was given a choice between a trip in space and a trip to the bottom of the ocean, I might just pick the ocean... ;)) though it's it's similarities to space that first got me intrigued in the Mariana Trench...

But that's another topic.

Thanks for the tips SL! They were helpful.
Avi by AstrowolfD
User avatar
wolfloversk
NarniaWeb Zealot
The Riddle Master
 
Posts: 6742
Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Location: Jurassic World
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby stargazer » Aug 15, 2011 2:24 pm

Nice to see so much practical advice on learning the constellations! :)

Thanks, jo, for your kind words. Your post made me think about when I first became interested in the night sky - but I don't remember when that was. ;)) I do suspect it had something to do with the space program - Project Gemini, perhaps; but it was solidly in place by the time Apollo 8 returned that classic picture in December 1968.

I have so many memories tied to things in the sky:

- Seeing Skylab for the first time, days after its launch, through the back window of the car as we drove to my grandfather's funeral.
- crazy college days, when I went on a road trip with a friend to see the total solar eclipse of February 1979 in Brandon, Manitoba.
- my long-awaited first view of Comet Halley, on a cold Friday the 13th in December 1985, shortly after a "Hallmark moment" reunion when we secretly flew my brother home from Seattle to surprise our parents.
- the Grand Tetons glowing softly in the full moon's light on an early camping trip.
-the pleasure of pointing out things in the sky, and answering questions, to curious little nieces and nephews and friends' kids.
-the pleasure of observing with other NarniaWebbers in person.

But I digress. It's great to read other peoples' stories and experiences with the heavens.
"The eclipse will melt your spine!'

- Overheard in a telephone pictionary game, August 2017
User avatar
stargazer
Moderator
 
Posts: 21444
Joined: Mar 28, 2004
Location: by a campfire

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby fantasia_kitty » Aug 15, 2011 2:51 pm

I am a complete noob when it comes to stargazing. I hear stargazer and johobbit talk about ISS passes and Iridium flares and other things and I have to run to google to see what they're talking about. :))

But I do love going out in the country and looking up in the night and stars. :D

My favorite constellation (and I didn't even known it was a constellation til a few years ago) is the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. I don't know why, but that little cluster always makes me happy when I can pick it out. ;)

Image
User avatar
fantasia_kitty
Site Admin
The Watchful Admin
 
Posts: 18113
Joined: Feb 06, 2004
Location: Kansas
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby wolfloversk » Aug 15, 2011 3:04 pm

fantasia_kitty wrote:My favorite constellation (and I didn't even known it was a constellation til a few years ago) is the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. I don't know why, but that little cluster always makes me happy when I can pick it out. ;)


.... Hey! That looks a lot like the "disputed constellation" I mentioned earlier. Is it (or does it seem) rather small? I remember I couldn't pick it out unless I had my glasses on...
Avi by AstrowolfD
User avatar
wolfloversk
NarniaWeb Zealot
The Riddle Master
 
Posts: 6742
Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Location: Jurassic World
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby fantasia_kitty » Aug 15, 2011 3:29 pm

I used to call it (ok, ok, I still do :P ) the mini-dipper because that's what it looks like to me. And yeah, the constellation is tiny. :)
User avatar
fantasia_kitty
Site Admin
The Watchful Admin
 
Posts: 18113
Joined: Feb 06, 2004
Location: Kansas
Gender: Female

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Shadowlander » Aug 16, 2011 4:29 am

I love the Pleiades! It's my absolute favorite star cluster. When you look at it through binoculars on a really clear night you can just make out the reflection nebula that it's in. I've read that they're actually travelling through space at a fixed speed and that at some point in the distant future they'll pass by relatively close to us. And FK, it's funny that you called it the mini-dipper, I've always felt it looked like a miniaturized version of the Dippers ;)).
Kennel Keeper of Fenris Ulf


Image
User avatar
Shadowlander
Moderator Emeritus
This Space For Rent
 
Posts: 2986
Joined: Nov 30, 2005
Location: Vault 13
Gender: Male

Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby johobbit » Aug 16, 2011 4:47 am

Haha! For years I used to think it was the Little Dipper. Good to know I'm not alone. ;))

I'm really enjoying reading these posts! It's great to visit with other night sky folk. :D And beeeaauutiful photos, too!
Image
User avatar
johobbit
Moderator
 
Posts: 14885
Joined: Feb 06, 2007
Location: Ontario, Canada ... under the northern sky
Gender: Female

Next

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests