Looking Up: Explore the Universe from your porch
It is ever amazing to this writer how one needs to make great plans and spend large sums to reach the far ends of the world, and even a trip, say to Florida, takes no small change and requires some effort- including deciding if you are flying, driving or walking.
In this age of mobility, we do just that far more than our forefathers would have dreamed, though the Earth remains a pretty big place despite our claims it is a “small world.”
Yet, tonight if the sky is clear you have the ability to look billions upon billions of light years, far, far into the Universe. With a modest, portable telescope you can locate incredibly distant galaxies, each at least as grand as our own Milky Way, and this is the best part- you can do this without even stepping off your porch.
Unless of course your porch is under the glare of neighborhood lights. It’s also amazing how just one unshielded security light, neon sign or street lamp can cut you off from the vast fields of stars spread across the night sky!
This cosmic adventure awaits you every clear night. Without even a telescope or spending a penny, you can feel you have transported across the fantastic spans of space. Yet the sky is not “there” and you are “here.” Through all this, we realize we are very much a part of the Grand Plan, traveling our wonderful speck of dust we call the Earth, an integral part of the rotating, revolving cosmos.
OR you can catch what’s on the tube- that means TV to modern flat-screen television lovers without a cathode ray tube on the back of the screen. You can pass time surfing the Web. Better yet, the show above your head outside can have much more to offer and carries no monthly fee!
This past week the writer had such an experience, on two evenings- and never left the deck. Overhead was the Big Dipper, so familiar (hopefully) to most everyone of any age in the northern hemisphere.
To even the most seasoned sophisticated astronomer, the seven stars of the Big Dipper surely never dim in the fascination held from childhood. Under a dark sky, like every other region of the sky, the Big Dipper contains much more awaiting a telescope in the hands of a curious stargazer. Amidst the bowl and around the handle and surrounding the Big Dipper, in the vast outer reaches of space, lie an untold number of galaxies. A small to medium sized backyard telescope reveals many of them, but even binoculars will show a few.
The writer was most impressed as he carefully “star hopped” with the aid of a detailed star chart, from faint star to star, locating even fainter and fuzzy spots of light. These are great masses of stars and nebulae, and surely though far beyond our detection, planets and moons, in their own galactic home far away from the galaxy we call the Milky Way.
Be sure to look west-northwest about an hour after sunset this weekend, for the crescent Moon. To the lower right is the bright red-orange star Aldebaran, and over to the right is the red planet Mars. Just below and to the right of Mars is the wonderful star cluster, the Pleiades. You may need binoculars due to the deepening twilight, its low altitude and any haze or light pollution.
Meanwhile Jupiter blazes like a beacon, in the southeast at nightfall. The lesser-bright star Spica is below it.
Saturn rises between 11 p.m. and midnight; by dawn it is at its highest in the south.
Venus is stunning, as it glows low in the eastern sky as dawn approaches.
The Moon reaches first quarter on May 2nd.
Keep looking up!
—Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.