Looking Up: Summer nights have more of us ‘looking up’

Peter Becker

Summertime tends to bring the most attention to the night sky. Despite the fact you have to wait up longer to see anything, warmer nights are quite an attraction. Another factor is more people are spending time outdoors, often on vacation. Campers thrill at the stars, especially if they come from urban areas.

Certainly children attending summer camp are amazed to find a sky full of constellations, a sky not milky white with smog and light pollution. Those of us who live in the countryside or small towns too easily take what we have for granted. Before long, another parking lot full of lights goes up, and gradually, the sky we remember as a kid seems to fade.

Enjoy the night sky. The sky as it is meant to be seen is precious indeed.

There was a time when our ancestors routinely saw a star-filled sky, save those who lived in smoke-choked cities. More people in the “old days” lived in the country. There was a time when the position of the constellations, the North Star and the phase of the Moon actually mattered. They were used to guide them about at night, whether needing to know the way north or a farmer working late into the night to finish a harvest.

The nights of our forefathers may have meant a closeer association of the stars in general. They knew the sky without even the proliferation of relatively inexpensive telescopes on the market.

In the past 50 years, amateur astronomy has blossomed. Fascination with the space travel spurred this on. Where once owning a good telescope usually meant building one from scratch, today you can easily order a telescopes of many different sizes and types to suit your interest and budget. Astronomy clubs abound across the country.

Yet the fact remains most Americans have never really seen the Milky Way.

This is certainly because most people live in urban or suburban areas where there is a light pollution. Another factor is they just aren’t looking up.

Are we happy to quench our interest with the occasional space movie where everything is fast and flashy and the extraterrestrial aliens speak better English then we do?

Alas, despite the wonders to behold among the profusion of stars of all levels of magnitude and a host of close, planets that wonder across, the faithful Moon in its orbit, meteors that zip by and a host of deeper celestial treasures awaiting even a small telescope, most are content to be inside.

Ah, the glimmer! The splendor! Not of the stars but the latest enticement on the computer and the TV (we used to just have creative adjectives about the TV).

Oh, to separate ourselves just for a few gigabytes worth of your time. The screen needs a rest anyway.

Now we’re not condoning you also pry yourself away from the pillow. We all need our beauty rest. At least for much of the country, clouds prevail on most nights and we can get our sleep. When that elusive, crystal clear night arrives, however, remember how your ancestors knew it well.

Be sure to look in the east about an hour before sunrise. The bright planet Venus is just below the bright planet Jupiter; the red star Aldebaran is at right making a nice triangle. Above Jupiter is the Pleiades star cluster. On July 14-16, watch as the crescent moon slides down past the planets.

New moon is on July 19.

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Keep looking up!