Look Up

So yes, I’m back from vacation– have been for a week and a half, I just haven’t gotten back into the swing of posting yet. Dugh recently called me on it as part a post about astronomy software. This turns out to be an excellent coincidence, because I was away in Maine.

My father is from Maine, and I’ve been going there on vacation since I was a child. Maine is where my interest in astronomy was born. The skies on Mt. Desert Island are just incredible on a clear night- indescribable. Without the glare from polution and city lights, the sky is very dark- except for the countless stars. The Milky Way is so bright and packed with stars that you could mistake it for a cloud at first, until your eyes adjust and start resolving it into myriad distant stars. Every time I go back, all it takes is the first clear night to instantly rekindle my passion for the night sky. My brother-in-law, Bob, was with us for the first time (this was a big family vacation, 10 of us in all), and couldn’t believe the sky- he’d never seen anything like it.

While I was there, I visted Island Astronomy for the first time. It’s a small astronomy shop located in a family lighthouse. Visit the site, and you may recognize the picture- it’s very highly photographed. The shop’s owner, Peter Lord, is a great guy. I really enjoyed talking to him. Of course, I didn’t escape unscathed. Although I got an 10″ Dobsonian a last year for my birthday, I never have a scope in Maine because the Dob is too large to travel with. I solved this problem by buying an Orion 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain from Peter. It’s a small scope, but perfect for travel. I got some great views of Jupiter with it after the fireworks on July 4. Island Astronomy also has viewing sessions and workshops for novices- If you visit Bar Harbor (or anywhere else on MDI), be sure to take a trip to Bernard on the quite side of the Island and check out Island Astronomy.

In my comments on Dugh’s post, I mentioned that the best way to learn the constellations, named stars, etc., is a good book and a clear night. Even in areas without the spectacular views of Maine, you can learn about the sky just by looking. This time of year, the Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major) is high in the northern sky and easily identified. With a little knowledge, this familliar sky sight is your signpost to the North Star (Polaris), the Little Dipper, Arcturus (brightest of the Summer stars), Spica (another bright star), as well as the circumpolar constallations such as Draco, Casseiopia, and Cepheus. Also easy to find are the three stars of the Summer Triangle – Vega, Deneb, and Altair, as well as their constellations Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquilla.

For a great guide to learning these and more, check out H.A. Rey’s classic The Stars: A New Way to See Them. If the author’s name seems familliar, it is – he’s the author of the Curious George books. And yes, he illustrated The Stars. For something with a bit more info, I’d never give up my copy of National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky – it’s a great, highly portable guide.

However you like to enjoy the night sky, make sure you do so from time to time. Just go out, and look up.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Look Up”

  1. Pwylla Says:

    Wow – i just realized that that H.A. Rey book is the same book my mom used to point out constellations when i was a child growing up in west texas. Often in the evenings my brother and i would read through it, pick a couple constellations,and then go lay in the front yard and try to see who could find them first. Thanks for bringing up that wonderful memory.