This is a practical section that will use your body and your eyes to discover some stuff about the created heavens. First consider the wonder of it all: a safe platform (earth) with a transparent atmosphere that you can see through; nearly empty outer space that permits us to see really long distances (light years); and incredibly placed concentrated balls of energy (stars) that have varying colors, placement, and proximity to other stars. Further, star cities (clusters and galaxies) have a few hundred to trillions of stars in numerous forms–all placed by God. They speak of His power and majesty. You can wrap it all together with a statement from Psalm 102:25 that says, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, the heavens are the work of your hands.” As mighty as they are and as interesting they are to observe, they are temporary, as the next verse explains. “They will perish but he will remain…” The verse says that the stars are a signpost of his work but life is more than what we see. We, like the heavens, are created. While this fact is very unpopular and more often dismissed, the current popular conjectures from a natural (God eliminated) view have no identified processes that yield what we see.
When God is dismissed from the picture, however, man’s reason demands an explanation, even if it means the explanation demands processes that have never been observed. We do observe star death and have evidence that things are running down in the heavens as well as earth (the concept of entropy comes to play here), but the generation of a complex universe on its own (the popular view) is fraught with issues. With God dismissed, it must be believed by faith, just like a Bible world view of creation must be (ultimately) believed by faith. There is a difference, however, since the Bible provides a historical record in Genesis, whose Author of the information was the Creator. (To look at evidence and articles about this, see http://www.creation.com and use the search window to look for articles of interest.)
For tonight (or your next clear night in a dark place during the next few weeks), let us try a practical exercise to observe the created heavens that uses your hands and eyes as well as your knowledge that the earth’s rotation makes the sky appear to rotate about the axis that runs from you to the Polaris (or the North Star). Remember, Polaris is the approximate location of the North Celestial Pole (NCP). During the next month (early summer for the north lattitudes) at some time between 11 pm and 1 am, I would like you to try this exercise to help you get a sense for the sky’s expanse for this time of year. There is one complication: you need a dark spot to observe what I will describe. It will be very hard to see from a city region. The instructions are for someone in the northern lattitudes. But, you have a month or so to do it for the instructions to make sense in relation to what you will see. In three months time, you can see the same thing around 3 hours earlier (rather than around midnight) because of the change in earth’s postion around the sun!
So, get to your dark spot on a clear night with your eyes dark adapted. Find Polaris or be facing in a direction reasonably north. Raise both hands and arms so your hands are about 4 feet (1.2 m) apart and tilted a little forward. Look over the sky you can see from vertical (or your local zenith) to the eastern horizon and to the western horizon. Go back and forth a few times and notice major stars and sky features. On the left and high (just below your left raised arm) will be that distinctive Big Dipper with the dipper part facing in and the handle stretching up and high. The diagram in the last lesson is close to what you will see (except that it will seem a lot bigger). Then look under your right arm and try to find what appears to be a faint cloud or whitish area that runs down your right hand side about a third of the way up from horizontal. That is part of the the Millky Way Galaxy or your home “neighborhood.” The combined sight (the Big Dipper on the left and the rising Milky Way on the right) is so common that most people run right past it, but it is a beautiful sight in the spring at north lattitudes when you see these two things on either side of you (underneath those raised arms). As I raised my arms the other night and did the same thing, I gave the Lord thanks for the view.
Want to go further? Grab that sketch pad or paper with clipboard and properly draw the major stars of the Big Dipper. Be careful to get the spacing and angles between stars as correct as you can. Then flip the paper over to draw Cygnus. This constellation runs through the center 0f the Milky way on your right and forms a cross. You can locate it under your right arm (looking northeast to almost east). Deneb is the brightest star in the NE and is also the head of the cross. A little further to the right or south will be three stars that look about vertical and almost in a line (they form the crossbeam of the cross). The base of cross is a fainter star and is located a little foward of your right shoulder or east. So, the cross lays on its side with the head farthest north, the beam next, and the base on your right. As summer progresses or the night progresses (remember sky motion?), it gets higher…and so does the Milky Way until it splits the sky in the late summer/early fall (for north latitudes) earlier and earlier in the evening.
Now you have seen your first galaxy (your own…and you are in it) but you have also had a little recording practice to remember what you have seen.
Next time we will talk about telescopes and binoculars, since most people want to know what to get to get started. In the meantime, here is a sketch of two galaxies that can be observed at this time of year in the northern latitudes around the Big Dipper. It takes a 12.5 inch aperture scope and an astro-video camera to see objects with this much detail, but I wanted to show it because it shows two galaxy sketches together. Not all classes of objects (even galaxies) look the same, as this sketch shows two spiral galaxies, but each is unique. Have a wonderful day, and do not forget to give God thanks for the heavens that He has given to us to observe. They point to His power and majesty.