Looking Up: Enjoying the stars — in the daytime!
The blue daytime sky contains ample opportunity for stargazing. This may sound crazy, but the Universe is before you every day.
Of course we have all seen at least one star in the day time, if you have eyes to see. The Sun is our nearest, and dearest, star. Without out star we wouldn’t be here! If it suddenly “went out,” we wouldn’t have to fret over soaring heating bills since they very quickly would be a moot point.
Thankfully, the Sun continues to shine, day and night. When our spinning planet takes us around to the dark side every night, we are reassured the Sun is there by light reflected back from the Moon and planets. Believer, atheist and everyone between have a measure of faith. In this instance we have faith the Sun will rise again, and we go to sleep expecting the sunrise (though some of us get up too late to ever see it!).
Aside from the Sun, there are reports of finding the brightest stars we see at night, shining in broad daylight. This has been done at other times than the total solar eclipse, when many of the stars wondrously come out with the dark Moon hiding the face of the solar rays (as many witnessed last August). To see one of the bright stars, such as Sirius, Vega or Capella, one has to know exactly where to look and the sky must be clear as can be. It would help to be at a high altitude.
Telescopes equipped with a computer database (”Go To” device), where the user punches in the coordinates of a sky object and the telescope obediently moves to the desired target, are at great advantage here. If aligned properly, one could use this method to spot a bright star by day, under the right conditions.
Another trick is to watch a bright star beginning in morning twilight, and don’t let go of it while the Sun rises.
The writer is yet to see a star by day- other than the Sun- but he has enjoyed seeing the brilliant planets Venus and Jupiter in a daytime sky. Jupiter was seen through binoculars one bright morning, situated very close to the crescent Moon. Without the Moon nearby it would have been very hard to locate the planet.
Some have wondered how you could possibly see the Moon during the day. The answer is, unless the Moon is at its full stage, it is not completely on the other side of the sky from the Sun. When the Sun sets, the First Quarter Moon, for example, is visible due south. A couple hours before sunset, the same Moon is found shifted back eastward, above the horizon, while the Sun is still up in the west.
A telescope trained on a daytime Moon will show craters and mountains as you see at night, but not as well. The Moon’s face will be very washed out, with little contrast.
Please remember NEVER to look at the Sun through a telescope or binoculars unless they are properly fitted in front with the right kind of specially made solar filters. You would burn your eye if you looked without the filter. There are totally safe, indirect ways to observe the Sun, including holding a white cardboard several inches behind the eyepiece and seeing the Sun’s image cast. DO NOT line up the telescope to the Sun with the small “finder” scope. You can aim the telescope on its tripod by watching the shadow of the tube; when it shortens to a circle, it is pointing at the Sun.
What stars would you see at noon time in mid-January, if the Sun were not present? You would see what we normally think of as the stars of summer. The Milky Way of summer is especially well seen if you have a dark sky. During the day in January it is still there, behind our blue sky, invisible except to the astronauts.
You can enjoy stars much better by night. This time of year, nights are long- you can see them right after dinner. Dress warm and go out and enjoy the winter constellations.
In the hour before dawn, take a look at bright planet Jupiter in the south southeast and fainter, reddish Mars nearby, to the lower left. Look very low in the southeast about a half hour before sunrise, for planet Mercury, and the dimmer planet Saturn just above it (binoculars will be a big help). New Moon is in January 16.
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.