Born under starry skies, rural seclusion wrapped childhood in the Milky Way. Constant, permanent, watchful – I left for city lights without saying goodbye. We still see each other every few years, picking up where we left off like old friends do. When time comes to part I wave goodbye, mindful of cosmic wonders that shaped my life. Pondering the fact 80% of people alive today have never seen the Milky Way.
There’s no excuse for not adding a sky app to your phone – free, idiot proof tools capable of turning heads upwards with childlike enthusiasm. Embrace unfamiliar cosmic dioramas, dazzle friends and family, enrich your perspective with a sense of wonder, or simply figure out once and for all which one is Jupiter, which one Venus.
Android phone apps have been around longer than anything “i”. My phone has Sky Map, and real time images of the Sun from Solar Dynamics Observatory. Free, reliable android apps linked below
Once upon a time iPhone users were out of luck – linked below, free cosmic apps for iphone or pad.
What are you waiting for?
Notes “star gazing” with Google Sky Map
I’ll never forsake stars, they’re as much who I am as the air I breath. A rural child, raised decades before electronic distractions – stars were my universe. A portal entered with nothing more than imagination. Mythology danced before my eyes – never forced, elusive or fleeting. Constellations made sense of history – I gazed upon stars just as ancients once looked to the cosmos for answers. Taken for granted my stars would never fade. Not until decades of emptiness met circumstance in the middle of night- a abandoned highway somewhere in Arizona, did I realize how I longed for my stars. Unfettered by light pollution – I welcomed lost stars.
Reality of light pollution – equal parts inevitable and devastating, led me to ponder how many stars we can see. The answer is – not many. Get away from urban illumination, give yourself half an hour or so adjusting to darkness – maybe you’ll see a few thousand. Deposit yourself in the middle of an Arizona wasteland, undoubtedly that number rises. The trouble is – few of us bother with Arizona nights.
Ponder the day when all who remember stars are gone, when no child rests on summer’s night grass becoming one with the ancients. Imagine not finding the North Star or plucking Orion’s belt from the sky.
San Francisco night sky as viewed without light pollution. – Thierry Cohen
Click on the link to view images of night sky sans light pollution images of 10 major cities by Thierrry Cohen…
The ridiculously difficult landing of Rosetta Mission’s Philae probe on comet 67P ignited pondering fires of cosmic wonder – a topic I’ve been silent on far too long. Months ago I wrote a post about “baby steps” to the cosmos, followed by several more on identifying specific stars, planets and constellations. Doubtful that many people bothered to follow meticulous instructions for visual orientation, my fall back has always been enthusiastic encouragement to download Google’s Sky Map app. As I pointed my phone at tonight’s sky, it occurred to me – this is too easy. To”Google”, is to arrive at answers without the process of investigation. Sky apps are handy in a pinch, but rather like cheating on a final exam – how could I study for the test?
My mind drifted back to grade school, and it hit me – I’ll make my own Planisphere.
Planispheres have existed in one form or another for centuries – one disc over another, rotating on a central pivot. Or a “pocket” and “wheel” you slip into the pocket depending on where you are and what you want to see. I found the site linked below – step by step instructions for all your Planisphere needs. First you print a “pocket” based on your latitude, then you make “city” and “milky way” wheels. City wheels are basic orientation of the brightest objects as seen from your location. Milky Way wheels are full on representation of everything visible if you could view the night sky as if in a rural location, free of light pollution. The site gives latitudes and instructions for “traveling” star wheels – make Planispheres when you travel, or send them as Christmas gifts to anyone, anywhere.
Of course I could go out and buy a Planisphere, but that defeats the purpose. The point is to stop and think about your latitude, realizing it truly matters to the night sky. A Planisphere forces one to understand the cosmic drift and flow. Making one teaches far more than occasional posts or instant recognition Google ever could – a star wheel offers reasons, makes us think, and takes us back to the joy of discovery.
Traveling at the speed of light for 2,538,000 years you would reach our closest galaxy, Andromeda. To put it simply – moving at 186,000 miles per second for over two and a half million years, covering a distance of 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles.
If you happen to be in the northern hemisphere and want to try finding Andromeda – now is the perfect time. Attempting Andromeda within cities or urban areas is futile – Andromeda requires the darkest of darkest skies.
Look to the eastern sky around 9 PM and locate the Great Square of Pegasus. Think of Alpheratz as 3rd base – draw an imaginary line between first and third base – that line points towards Andromeda.
Next allow your eye to adjust and find two “streamers” to the north (left) of Alpheratz. Streamers being “lines” of brighter stars. These “streamers” form constellation Andromeda. Find Mirach – the brightest star along the bottom line, let your eye draw a line between Mirach and the star Mu in the “streamer” above – keep going about the same distance above Mu, and say hello to Andromeda. I won’t promise a jaw dropping spectacle – more like a fuzzy smudge.
Finding Andromeda isn’t about razzamatazz. Even if you fail – the act of finding two and a half million year old light from another galaxy, is worth the effort.
This video speaks for itself – explaining why I can’t wipe the grin off my face, or how it bolsters my wonder for all things cosmic seem inappropriate. Watch, wonder and smile.
Watching this time lapse video by Mike Flores – 4 years ago in Baja California – illustrates ancient civilization’s keen understanding of the cosmos. Ponder a world unfettered by light pollution – imagine this on the “big screen” every night – galactic awareness would become second nature.
This graphic sums up modern reality – a majority of Earth’s citizens live within the spectrum of the first two night skies. All but a handful of the brightest objects hopelessly lost to light pollution. I’ve used the 1994 Los Angelos Northridge earthquake example on many occasions – when the city lost power, frantic citizens called 911 and the Griffith Observatory, terrified by the appearance of a “strange, giant, silvery cloud” – it never occurred to say hello to the Milky Way.
I’ve often asked myself if modern indifference towards the natural world stems from fading reminders of our place in the cosmos. Ancient people built mythology around celestial observations – cosmic shifts and alignments dictated planting, harvest. Elaborately woven lore binding earth and sky. The world made sense because nothing was taken for granted.
We’ve lost the one perspective able to put us in our place – the ability to look up and see we’re part of a very big universe. It may not be possible to find a corner dark enough to see the universe as ancient people did – watching Mike Flores video is a great place to start.