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Oct 19

The Wonders of the Night Sky

Posted on October 19, 2017 at 3:42 PM by Brittany Byrd

Night sky
“We gaze dreamily at the Milky Way and once in a while catch some shooting stars. Times like those give me the opportunity to wonder and ask all those very basic questions and feel that sense of awe; the heavens start there.”
Kalpana Chawla, American Astronaut

We often neglect the world around us and above us in our haste to go to work, school, run errands or whatever tasks await us. We return home tired never bothering to look up and we miss the wonders that await us even with the amount of light pollution in our urban areas. 

From the time I could look up I was always fascinated by the stars. For my 8th birthday, my parents bought me my first telescope and I was hooked. It was a poor rickety thing but I would spend hours outside trying to find Jupiter, look at the moon and anything else I could pick out.  Since that time through my career, I’ve used bigger and better telescopes including the 2 meter telescope on Mount Graham in Arizone, the Keck Telescope in Hawai’I  and watching direct imaging from the Hubble Space Telescope arrive at NASA. No matter what, I always go back to gazing at the night sky with my binoculars or my small refracting telescope and or just watching the flow of stars and planets through the year.

Since the time of my first telescope the technology of the simple telescope has improved dramatically resulting in an instrument that is very functional and quite easy to use. Now, you can check out a telescope from the Watertown Free Public Library to use in your own back yard.

A large telescopeYes, you can have that chance to gaze at the night sky yourself. The telescope is very simple design, comes with instructions and sits comfortable on a picnic or patio table in your back yard.  Included with the telescope is also a planisphere, which is a wheel that will show you the night sky overhead for your area and some ideas as to what to look for, month by month.

So where do I start?  The library has a number of resources available to check out:

The 50 best sights in astronomy and how to see them : observing eclipses, bright comets, meteor showers, and other celestial wonders by Fred Schaaf
Astronomy Manual: a practical guide to the night sky by Jane Green
Complete Guide to Stargazing by Robin Scagell
Deep Sky Wonders: A tour of the universe by Sue French
A row of four books
I particularly like Sue French’s book. She takes you on a tour month by month or constellation by constellation.  She has a regular column in Sky and Telescope, the leading magazine for astronomy.  

For a nice descriptive list, Fred Schaaf’s book gives you a starting point for viewing the night sky. 

So how do you know where to point a telescope? If you want a simple way to guide your telescope viewing, there are a number of apps available for little or no cost that have revolutionized observing for the average person. Many of them have a feature that allows you, with a simple figure eight motion, to align your phone with the sky and by simply pointing your phone or iPad up to the sky, you can identify what you’re seeing. 

Two that I recommend are Sky Guide and Star Walk 2. Both of these are excellent and have the “compass” function which aligns your phone. They are in both formats and very inexpensive.  Even if you don’t use the telescope, these apps are fun to just see what’s overhead without having to look up anything.

I hope many of you take the opportunity to check out the telescope and spend some time looking at the wonders of the night sky.  Who knows it may change the way you view the world around us. 

Tag(s): Circulation