Last time we covered getting your eyes, your splendidly designed eyes, adapted to the dark. It takes 15 minutes to see marginally but almost 50 minutes to be completely dark adapted. 15 is enough to go out and start locating things.
Remember the notepad and a little pencil. Take a little light with a red piece of tape on it or use a red LED light.
You have chosen a spot that is not in the glare of street lights. If you are in Northern lattitudes, what do you do first? From the place you want to look around, where is N, S, E, and W? This time of year there is an easy way to start–even without a compass or GPS. Spring means the Big Dipper is pouring out. That really big pattern of stars (called an asterism) will be obvious. You can look it up online to see the shape it makes, then match it with what you see outside. The last two stars at the far edge of the cup (toward the left) make line. Extend that line down and you run into Polaris, which is real close to true North. From there you know that South is in back of you, East on the right, and West on the left. Polaris is not hard to find because there are not many stars around it.
It may sound funny to experienced observers, but I have enjoyed drawing the this constellation more than once. So find yourself a seat somewhere, grab a cup of your favorite drink, face North, look up but forward of zenith (zenith is straight up) and the Big Dipper (or Ursa Major) will be sprawled out like an upside down pitcher. God made two beautiful groupings of stars so that during any time during a year, we can figure out where we are facing and what time it is. The other constellation is Cassiopia, which looks like a “W.” It is on the opposite side of Polaris. If you are at low lattitudes or have interference near the horizon, you probably cannot see it at this time of year.
SKETCHING WHAT YOU SEE
When you go out in the dark (after this lesson) note the time, place, your instrument (your eyes), and record the shape of the Big Dipper. Brighter stars…darker dots. Lighter stars…lighter dots. Get their angles and distances with each other as correct as you can. You will see triangles and broken lines if you pretend there are lines between the stars. Then put that shape on your paper if you have trouble just putting the stars. There is no shortcut to learning this, but practice makes 6 year olds or 80 year olds get it really fast. How do we know? We have taught both in Uganda and the Philippines and the US. The simple practice of seeing a star pattern and repeating it on a piece of paper teaches and incredible amount spatial recognition that is used in dozens of disciplines. Our recommendation: get good at it. It becomes fast and easy to do, but be patient the first few times. Then when you look at neat objects, it will be much easier to recognize features of star patterns and the object in the same area of the sky.
So before you begin, here is a simple sketch of a grouping of stars near the Eagle and Swan Nebulae (M16 and M17), which can be seen in the late summer. This sketch was done by using a 8 power binocular. After looking at the sketch, we will provide some information about a couple things you can get that will be real handy for observing the heavens.
If you want to start with a sky map that is good but also simple to use, it is best to order one or borrow one. One of our favorites is the Chandler planisphere. You need to order it for your lattitude (to the nearest 10 degrees). They are $10 on Amazon. Or, you can get a beginners observing kit. One that is nice includes the planisphere, the Chandler sky atlas, and a neat little book on binocular viewing. The kit is sold several places, but an easy place to get it and a place that has other information on observing is http://www.earthsky.org. And do you want some optics to help your eyes? Start with a 7 or 8 power binocular. One we use overseas that is inexpensive but decent is only $30. It is called the Bushnell Falcon 7×35. Amazon still has it. We put it with astro kits overseas because they are consistently built well. Don’t get anything smaller than the 35mm objective lens (that is the second number in binocular “talk”). You can get much more, but this one is inexpensive and works. You don’t need lots of power. We will talk about that later.
Next time: How the sky changes OR God’s Magnificent Calendar and Clock.
It is a great day to give thanks to the One who created the heavens. If you have never read it, check out Psalm 19:1-4. If you have questions, send them to me on this blog or to our ministry address (firstname.lastname@example.org). You are welcome to see us and what we do at http://www.christworksministries.org.
Til next time….