The dream or quest of many observers of the heavens is more and more reach or, in other words, more and more aperture. “Birders” are often the same. First they want a good binocular, then a better one, then a better one. All of this is aimed (usually) at seeing more or better. Do you?
Even at campsites during travels we have put up a telescope to draw people to see the heavens. We talk about the Creator of it all, of course, and enjoy showing the handiwork of His commands when creation occurred (see Genesis 1). But there are times we simply use our eyes. The naked eyes against the naked sky is a combination that cannot be beat. There is, however, a catch. One has to be willing to take the time to truly observe, obey a few simple disciplines, and interpret what is being seen. Then the heavens open up. For parents and teachers, it means being willing to “stop the train” long enough to talk the children or students through the process, so they can learn to discover for themselves.
If you have a binocular, then dozens of star clusters come into view. Star color becomes a little more obvious for those that have some color. One can also view many of the little fuzz balls–globular clusters. The sketch below shows a quick sketch of an open cluster that is easy to see with the naked eyes but really takes on a little more with a set of binocular:
How does one start to observe the night skies? Many of the readers of this blog have probably never done this, but would you be willing to discover the skies for yourself, and even be able to show others? Rather than have the constant stream of sharp graphics and colors delivered by artificial means where you are subject to someone else’s story telling, why not make your own story using what God has given you…your eyes and your mind? Even in city areas, where dark skies are hard to find, the moon is stilll big and bold but so are the major stars and bright constellations.
You need to do a couple things if you have never done this before (unless it is the moon you are observing):
1. Let your eyes adapt to the night sky. It simply cannot be hurried because of the way your eyes were designed. Avoid white light for about 15 minutes (minimum). You do not have to be in pitch black conditions, but the darker the better. Sound boring? Listen to some music or make some to make the time pass. Or, if you are with someone, why not take the time to communicate a little? 15 minutes will go pretty fast.
2. Already have a place in mind to look up (assuming it is stars that are your target) where you can see an area of sky without having to shield your eyes from bright street lights.
3. Have a very dim white light handy, or (much better) a small red LED flashlight. If you only have a small white light, cover the lens with red tape or even thin red paper so only a wee little bit of light is apparent. It will be enough. Note: cell phone light is too bright. You will use your dim light to see your little piece of paper or notebook. If it’s just a sheet of paper, you might want a clip board or light book or something to back it up. Have a plain old #2 pencil with an eraser–same thing you used (or are using) in school.
Now you are ready. You have waited 15 minutes in the relative dark. Go to your spot and look up. Choose a large area of sky. Notice the relative locations of key stars. Notice the differences in apparent magnitude and color. Make a couple notes on your plain piece of paper.
Pick one group of stars that you find obvious or interesting. Imagine lines between them. They will make shapes (like triangles or polygons or lines [straight or curved] ). Put the shape on your piece of paper. Make bigger dots for brighter stars; smaller dots for lesser stars. Erase the lines. You have made your first observing sheet of a group of stars…along with your notes about the kinds of things you noticed when you got started. If you make a mistake or put something too dark or put it in the wrong place, that is why you have an eraser. Put the date, time you observed, the direction you were standing when you looked up (N,S,E, or W). You can also put how far above horizon you were looking by measuring up from horizon with an outstretched hand and arm. Every hand (from thumb to tip of the pinkie) is about 20 degrees when your arm is fully outstretched, so measure by handwidths from the horizon to the place you were looking.
My next blog post will take another step….