The Sky

Friday, August 21, 2009

When you’re far away from the city lights, the clear night sky is a beautiful thing. The constellations shine brightly, the Milky Way stands out clearly, and the Moon can provide all the light you need to see by.

Living out here, I’ve had a chance to see wonderful things in the sky. Recently, the Perseid meteor shower provided my wife and I with a romantic bit of evening, with beautiful, astral accompaniment. We saw some spectacular meteors fall that night, and it was a welcome change from the cloudy night we had had previously.

In the winter, on a snow-covered night, with the full Moon out, the snow sparkles beautifully and you can see almost as well as during the day. The silence is stirring and inspirational, and you can stand there in your winter gear, relaxed and at peace, almost losing track of time completely.

To facilitate my Moon viewing, I wrote a small program called MoonPhase. You can find it where I keep many of my little projects at my main website. It shows the current phase of the Moon and lets you check out what the other phases look like.

One of my favourite pieces of astronomy software is Stellarium. Once you figure out the interface and set in your latitude and longitude you can see a view of the sky from your current location and time. Controls are provided to speed up the time of the display so that you can see what the sky will look like later on in the night. It helped me locate the Perseids this year and had me pointed in the right direction.

Cultures around the ages have looked to the stars and seen animals, people or tools in the patterns formed there. The names and exact shapes of these constellations vary, of course, but the human ability to make patterns lies at the centre of our creative ability to find a pattern and give it a life beyond its objective reality.

My father is an amateur astronomer and has a great telescope that he purchased with his retirement gifts. He’s a member of an amateur astronomy club (text in French, club meetings in French) in the Montérégie area of Quebec. The club has regular meetings where members give presentations on astronomical topics of interest. If you’re interested in joining one, there just might be one in your area listed here.

The night sky has many beautiful sights for the appreciative individual. When you next leave the city lights at night, look up and see if you can’t pick out a constellation or two. You can always make up your own; that’s how they first got their names!


BiteTheDust said...

Like you I live in the middle of 'nowhere' and have beautiful night skies to view. With your interest of astronomy you might be interested in the following article and radio interview on Australian indigenous astronomy. Is it the world's oldest at50000yrs old?

skwirl42 said...

Very interesting article! The night sky's a great place for the imagination.

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