Lonely Post-Apocalyptic Edition
November 4, 2010
This post has moved to our new website at Indie Moines. Click here to be taken there.
Filed under Nature, Relationships, Science, Spirituality
About J. Eric SmithWriter, Speaker, Trainer, Planner, Manager and Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa.
Or, whip out your iPhone, iPad, or other compatible device and launch StarWalk. Then point said mobile device into the sky and it’ll tell you what you’re looking at, including all the stars, constellations, planets, etc. You can even fast forward or rewind to see what the sky will look like on different days. Curious where a specific star is located? Just search for it and StarWalk will point you in the right direction.
Whoops! That’s awfully commercial for Indie Albany.
Well, yes, Ryan, I suppose we COULD do it that way . . . but we’re trying to teach the young people to be cool here, not dorky . . .
Besides, the light of the iToy screen would mess up your night vision, so you’d know where Aldebaran was, but you’d lose your ability to see it.
(Stupid technology ruins ALL the fun . . . grumble grumble grumble . . . )
Well said, Eric, and a nice post. Although with all the fossil fuel being burned to keep all those iPhones charged up, someday the only way we’ll see the stars might be with StarWalk!
Love this, JES! When the Crown Prince was born, I bought a 3.5-in Newtonian on super sale from Eagle Optics. Unfortunately, we have two street lights on either side of the house and tall trees on three sides…not great for astronomy…but we have been able to see Saturn’s rings and the CP loves the moon. And I’ve taught him all about how to find the North Star.
Also, one of my fave lines from the great Cusack vehicle, The Sure Thing: “He thinks he’s so smart, but he doesn’t even know Cassiopeia is the mother of Andromeda!”
It’s raining here, G, or I’d go outside and point at the Cassiopeia constellation and the Andromeda galaxy, just because I can . . .
I have always used my star knowledge for good and not evil. If by good you mean pointing out things that guys can’t identify and telling them what they are looking at. It’s kind of like out-driving them on the golf course don’t you think.
Now THAT’S evil . . . . but it’s a GOOD evil . . .
Bring it on, baby. I’ve forgotten more about astronomy than most people have ever learned.
Seriously, because I dealt with the data a lot I became much more familiar with the three-dimensional arrays of the nearest stars (even to recognizing intuitively when said arrays were used in the STAR TREK films, and then confirming the fact later) than with the whole panoply of constellations. And these days I deal more with calendar astronomy than with naked-eye observational astronomy, mostly because it’s so hard to get a decent view in the Houston, TX. area.
But go ahead, take me out somewhere and show off your knowledge. My lust for knowledge overwhelms my ego, every time. In such a game there is no score – not for me.
You’re right. Any time I’ve had occasion to point out a planet, bright star or constellation to someone, they’ve reacted as though it was very clever of me to know that. My real feelings were dismay that anyone WOULDN’T recognize those obvious celestial benchmarks. It’s nice to know that there are still people who look up at night and can name things. I say this despite now living in an area where second-magnitude stars are usually washed out, and there isn’t that much to see on even the very clearest nights.
Love it! This would’ve totally worked on me when I was a younger, single girl…
Oh, the stories I could tell . . . . thank you, Orion . . .
Enjoyed your blog a lot, by the way . . . and added it to the Indie Albany Blogroll . . .
Why thank you kindly! Now about those stories…perhaps fodder for a future blog post? Just sayin…
This is a great article! I’m moving to the Arctic in a few weeks. Looking forward to getting my first glimpse of the auroras…and having clear nights to see a multitude of stars. I hope to relearn some of the constellations that I’ve forgotten…
We were in Iceland this summer. On the flight up, I had Ursa Major to my port side out the window, as we flew by night above the clouds. Awesome!!! Didn’t see any aurorae, alas.
Out back counting stars…
Wow! Impressive post!
I am a constant stargazer. I just did a unit on stars and the phases of the moon with my preschool class. This will be a great reference to go back to, thanks for posting. I wish I could see the stars more often, even on clear nights, I live in an old neighborhood with big trees that block out big swaths of the night sky.
Everything pulls on everything . . . gravity is an equal opportunity attractor . . .
Glad you enjoyed it . . . and love the idea of your kids getting exposed to it!!!
Great post. We have been watching Jupiter’s migration this fall and it has been fascinating.
I would TOTALLY recommend getting a good set of binoculars or a small telescope while it’s in such good viewing position . . . it’s literally mind-blowing to see the moons!!!
I love looking up at the sky but always wonder what I’m looking at. I should print this and go camping. Congrats on FP!
I think it’s cool to go out the first time with an article like this one, or a star map, or whatever, and look up the first time and start to put the pieces together, making the leap from the abstract to the real.
Thanks for posting this. I often get frustrated that people don’t know the night sky. I think I take it for granted that I have been able to name constellations and point out planets since I was little. The skill has never left me and neither has the joy that comes from watching the stars .
Nice post x
Thanks for thoughtful comment and link back. Both appreciated!
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Hey! This is a very good blog entry, loving the science. But, from a cosmological perspective Pleiades is not a deep space object. It is within the Milky Way galaxy, deep space objects are typically quasars and galaxies outside the local group. It’s probably best to call them an open cluster within the Milky Way.
We must note, any stars that you see in the night sky (if you can actually tell them apart from galaxies with your naked eye!) that they are within the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is massive, but not as ENORMOUS as the Universe!
Thank you very much for the article!
Good catch, Michael in re Pleaides. I labeled it that way because to see them on the Sky and Telescope sky map, you have to enable the “Show Deep Space Objects” option. Will edit above to clarify.
P.S. I love your blog, and have added it to the Indie Albany blogroll . . . good stuff, all around!
Excellent blog! I agree, it would be better if more people knew the constellations – although I do quite like being able to point them out to others and sound rather clever! Having said that, they never seem to be fired up with the same enthusiasm that I was when someone first showed me the basic constellations two years ago. Have decided to ask for a telescope for Christmas so that I can do more observing – it’s staggering how beautiful the night-sky can be
Clever is always a valuable commodity.
Hooray for the telescope . . . seeing Saturn’s rings or Jupiter’s moons or the Andromeda Galaxy or so many other cool things up there with your own eyes is mind-boggling and life-altering, for sure.
I enjoyed your blog a lot, by the way . . . and have added it to the Indie Albany Blogroll . . .
That evil trick would have totally worked on me *blush*
You are not alone.
I appreciated and enjoyed your blog a lot, by the way . . . and have added it to the Indie Albany Blogroll . . .
I think the best part of this is the hot tub, although I am pleased to have had the astronomy refresher as well!
The two greatest purchases of my entire life were our hot tub and our excellently firm, very high quality King Size mattress. Highly recommended, in both cases.
Nice post. I’m reminded of my young days…cross country navigation…night patrol… all the stars were my stars…just a look at the sky told time and direction.
my favorites are the dippers, the north star and the southern cross.
We traveled to Argentina a few years ago, and I was tickled pink to be able to see Alpha Centauri, Canopus, and the Southern Cross . . . I felt like I was missing out on something, having never seen out closest stellar neighbor with my own two eyes!!!
It’s always a joy to look at the night sky when I’m up north, away from city lights. I don’t know what children are taught now, but the kids I’ve met can’t locate any constellations, not even the Big Dipper. When I was in grade school, we had to learn some basic star maps. I’m familiar with the constellations you named because I had to be!
It’s not just about impressing a date, either. Knowing the stars can mean the difference between life and death if you’re lost.
I studied Celestial Navigation at the Naval Academy, Roz . . . so that probably does impact my appreciation for understanding what’s above me, as a function of understanding what’s below me . . .
I can’t even imagine how complex a study that must have been. I’m just proud of myself for finding Polaris and a few constellations!
(I carry a compass and a Swiss Army knife, too!)
I really enjoy reading this article. Have always love the night sky though it is very rare that we get a clear a night sky here. Thanks for the tips.
Glad you enjoyed . . . and the planets, in particular, are so bright that they are typically visible even in the most light-polluted areas. It only takes knowing one of them to impress those who never look up!!!
Thank you Eric for a wonderful site, I have grown up with my parents and great-grandparents in doing everything by the position of the stars along with the Moon phase and the sun. Planting and fishing by the moon, sun and star calendar have always been loyally adhered to by my family for generations, although now you have pointed out that it can be used ‘for evil or the thought of evil meaning to beat others by the knowleage that you know’, this sums up some of the interesting points that are bought up if I even mention what I sit e
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i really love anything about astronomy especially constellations. hope i can have more time in star gazing. =) nice blog. learned so much from it.
Thank you for this post! I’m so frustrated here in Dallas because the light pollution is terrible. In Minnesota I knew just where to go to see the stars…
Wow – thank you so much! this is joy for my eyes to read your post!
the atmosphere in full glory – is there anything greater!
thank you once more! the night is upon us
Ps – you’ve inspired me to get a hot tub outside!
life = exciting
My kids were never interested in the night sky until we took a holiday in the highlands of Scotland where the is no light pollution.
They were amazed that so many stars were visible and wanted to know what they all were. I’ll get them to read this post and they can write about the night sky in my blog.
Thanks for the post, it’s inspired me to get everyone outside tonight!
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I’m loving the reference to New Zealand, albeit minor =)
I haven’t been there yet, Arrow, but I have been to Argentina, so I did get to appreciate the southern celestial sphere!
This is great astronomy is awesome. I’ve take a class about it 3 times. Love astronomy.
I like this post
I have a 10×50 power pair of binoculars. Is that powerful enough for a place like Belleville, Illinois? Also, I can almost always recognize several constellations beacuse I’ve been looking at the stars off and on even since I was four or five years old and I’m 32 now. *BG*
Even when I lived in Arizona (especially Flagstaff), I could always see several constellations and several times saw not just just the Dippers but the larger constellations they were located in (the Bears)…not to mention Leo and once…even Auriga (I think).
Thanks for the information, J. *BG*
I never considered using the stars above as a romantic topic – perhaps I should try! I am somewhat knowledgable on the subject (though far less than you).
The last time I stargazed with some friends my girlfriend was like “Can we leave it’s cold” and well, that kinda ruined everything.
Its an interesting post. Here in the UK you can only really see the most common stars due to so much light pollution. While I was on holiday to Maldives few years back – I realised the true beauty of the stars standing in the dark at the edge of the beech surrounding by nothing apart from the sky – It brought a tear to my eye just by admiring the excitement that was displayed for us in the natural sky at night – me and my partner just watched the stars and listened to the mild wooshing of the water. for hours.
Since then I have someone started gaining an interest into the stars and stuff which we so take as granted. With the added phone application on my HTC I am able to understand the stars and their power allot more and in more detail.
Nice Post mate – well done.
For me that “WOW” moment came while at sea in the North Atlantic on a 98-foot sailboat, with NO light at all . . . you suddenly understood the stories behind the constellations better when you could see ALL of their stars.
Glad to see you get so many positive responses. Nature viewing, including astronomy, has so much competition now. Keep it up!
Thanks to everybody yesterday and today (and in the days to come) for great comments. I appreciate them!! I hope you will take the time while you are here to look at the works being presented by some of the other writers at Indie Albany . . . we’re a consortium of 14 people right now, bound together by the desire to write often and well, with no commercial interests or financial motivations marring the creative act we’re undertaking together. So it’s really delightful to see the interest that this endeavor is generating!
Also, please consider joining our Facebook group, here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Indie-Albany/114467298615050
Brilliant. I have always loved learning about the stars and planets and space. Thanks for the lesson–I needed to refresh my starry knowledge.
My pleasure, glad you enjoyed it. It was interesting to see the quote from A.A. Michelson on your blog, as I spent a LOT of time in Michelson Hall years ago as a midshipman at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Outside of the hall named for him were a series of silver markers embedded in the walkway, showing where Michelson conducted his key experiments on the speed of light . . . see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Michaelson_experiment_annapolis.JPG
I know my planets, the constellations, not really. Thanks for the lesson.
If I point out the name of a star, planet, plant, or other natural feature, people don’t look at me and wonder how I know that. More often, they look at me as a fool for wasting my time knowing such “unimportant” trivia. Sad that the general public views such knowledge as less important than who got eliminated last on the reality show, or who starred in what movie. Perhaps I am just hanging out with the wrong crowd.
You can always combine the two facets of contemporary experience by making stuff up . . . “See that cluster of stars up there? That’s the Jersey Shore Constellation, and that bright blob in the middle is The Simon Cowell Nebula . . . “
That’s right, Eric. We must keep things relevant.
(On a slightly more serious note: I also point out birds and airplanes by name to people . . . anything up in the sky becomes more interesting when you claim it by giving it a name . . . )
Thank you very much! Very romantic and useful post. I’ve never been interested in stars when I lived in Moscow. You can’t see stars in the megapolis. Now I spend half a year in my flat in a small town in Italy. Vow! There are lots of bright stars in the sky! And I wish to know their names.
Once you’ve named something, you have an ownership stake and an investment in it . . . I like that aspect of pointing and naming!!
it is sad. i cannot see any stars in the sky because of the bright lights that burn all night .
I don’t know where you are, Vicky, but I bet if you could find a park or an open field in your city late at night, you should be able to at least see Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Sirius and some of the brighter stars in the big three constellations. I have seen Jupiter and Venus from mid-town Manhattan, so I can’t imagine things get any brighter than that!!! You just have to know where to look, and when.
What a magnificent piece of knowledge to share. Here I am, with a full night of stars and for the first time I might actually try to identify them. I have no doubt that in doing so, it will give me some perspective of the earths position with the surrounding stars. In fact, we all love and admire nature so much, so why have people forgotten the stars? I see you have given many of us now, the gift of silence, being in the present moment and gratitude for this beautiful earth. And for that I thank you.
Contemplating the scale of the object we see in the sky does more to put things in perspective than just about any other activity I can imagine . . . there are many films on Youtube that show the scale of some of the larger stars we can see in the night sky, and the difference between them, our own Sun, and the Earth is beyond human understanding, I think.
Great Post (:
The more I think about what’s out there, the scarier it seems! Although, whenever I have to explain the concept of infinity to my daughters, I just ask them to ‘tell me what the highest number in the world is’. And once they think about that, I just relate that concept / idea to infinity and the night sky.
Great work by you on the stars and Universe. So very few people ever see the night sky for all the man- manufactured light we insist on obliterating the night sky with, even here in Barbados.
It was only in the pagan days, man really knew the heavens as he should. Christianity put an end to that, except for the star above the creche.
We had good stargazing from beaches in Aruba . . . I’ll bet a late night in an isolated corner of Barbados would be enough to restore that sense of wonder!!!
Great site. I’m a backyard astronomer and think you’ve done a super job with your entry. Glad to see that you use the info for good. Enjoy your skies, particularly in the hot tob.
I’ll keep using the info for good. I can attest for the young dudes learning from me, though . . .
what a great entry! I was just pointing out numerous constellations the other night and was surprised to see that teenagers actually don’t know any besides the “Big Dipper” and I was a little frustrated by this. I’m glad to have stumbled upon your entry
wow! great post. beautiful pictures. astronomy is wondrous. it would be neat if we could image extrasolar planets from home.
Fantastic blog post – I love the combination of science, romance & dating tips. It definitely works too (I know a few constellations, but I have a terrible memory for facts and my sense of space/geography isn’t great either) – one of my favourite all time memories is that of lying on the beach having the constellations pointed out to me by my other half about 2 years ago…we’re now getting married in 3 weeks time!
The heavens never disappoint, when properly deployed . . .
Love the HVAC Engineering blog!! Spent a good chunk of my career working in nuclear engineering field, where efficient fluid flow is of utmost importance . . . added you to the Indie Albany blogroll.
Thank-you! I’m hoping to entice a few youngesters into engineering through the powers of blogging. Ideally into building services but I’m not that picky.
Nuclear engineering is fascinating, it’s not an area my company is currently working in…but who knows where the future may lead.
Wonderful post! Whenever I’m outside at night, I always look up. I don’t always know the names of the constellations, but I love looking! I’m a bit west of you, and this morning, my husband pointed out Orion to me as he was walking to his truck to leave for work. The other night I noticed a bright star that could only be a planet – must have been Jupiter – Thanks!
In the pre-midnight evening hours, Jupiter is the only dramatically bright planet/Top 10 star at this point, so you’re very likely correct in ID’ing it as such.
How sad it is that light polution from our cities and major towns has deprived us of a proper sight of the Milky Way. I recently spent a few days in the Scottish borders, during the time of the last meteor storms and saw the Galaxy in all its glory for the first time in many, many years. My niece, who has lived in the city all her life asked me what it was!
What’s interesting to me is that I don’t really remember when I stopped seeing it . . . . I know I did as a child, I know I do when I go the mountains or other isolated areas, but I don’t know when I looked up for the first time and said “Huh . . . where’d the galactic plane of the Milky Way go??”
Excellent job. I too spend many a night with my head tilted upward looking at our celestial neighbors. I was just thinking about the Pleiades last night and how the Japanese turned them into a logo.
Great, informative post. I’ve always had my favorite constellations, but I feel those were mainly made up of the only ones I can recognize on a regular basis. Looking forward to spotting these other ones you’ve mentioned, and maybe using this knowledge for evil as well. Thanks!
Well, evil DOES tend to be more fun than good, so there’s that . . .
Thank you so much. This from the weekly column I just wrote:
” I had a date with Mom and Dad this past weekend to plant spring bulbs and rosehip roses over them. The November sky Saturday night was beyond any sky I have ever seen. Huge Ursa Major at the north horizon, Cassopeia in the center, Pleiades to the East: blinking my eyes, I could distinguish different sets of colored stars each blink. The milky way was in strata, layered under and over, and what was that huge globe of brilliance to the South? When I removed my glasses to lay to rest, I glanced out the kitchen window to the East and saw a light, a glow. But there are no lights to be seen on a moonless night in the Chequamegon. Rising, I put on my specs to investigate. It was spectacular starglow. To think of this, over all the earth and its inhabitants.”
I’ve been looking for a site to corroborate what I saw, and you did it! And that hugeness in the South must have been Jupiter. What a following you have! Thank you.
Kriss from northern WI, USA.
Great post, Kriss! I’m jealous of the additional clarity you have in Northern Wisconsin (though not of your weather in February)!
Gravity is an amazing thing we had the change to watch the spring tide a couple of years ago when the moon was at its closes to the earth, not only was the sky very clear and bright the the wave coming in were thrilling.
There’s is some story behind those twinkling wonders up above. When I moved into the city, I thought that clear skies would be rare, but not entirely. Had spotted Sirius the night before. But, the best constellation of all- easiest to spot is Orion. Too difficult to miss that one..
….the little thread of thoughts, you’re right about Orion being extremely hard to miss spotting.
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