Happy Look Up at the Sky Day!

14 Apr

I had intended for this blog post to be tips on viewing stars while in the city, since I myself am in Chicago, and what planets or constellations I could expect to see if I were to look up at this sky this evening.  What I got from my conversation with Professor David Meyer, however, was very different.

Image from ESA/Hubble

Meyer, a teacher in Northwestern’s physics and astronomy department as well as director of the Dearborn Observatory, did not tell me tips for viewing stars among the light pollution created by cities.  Nor did he focus on which stars I would be able to see or how to set my telescope.  Rather, he advocated getting out of the city to a dark sky and simply looking up with the naked eye.

“The importance is to encourage people to actually go look up at the night sky as it appeared to our ancient ancestors to see why people looked at the sky and told stories, named constellations and put so much faith in the sky,” Meyer said.  “It’s amazing how out of touch people have become with the sky.”

When Meyer asks his astronomy students at Northwestern if they have seen a truly dark sky, only about a third of the students answer yes.

And it’s amazing to think about.  This huge dark sky filled with beautiful stars is above us 12 hours a day and most people either live in a city or are simply too busy to ever just look up.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the stars in the Australian Outback, which was amazing, though it was almost a full moon.  I was thankful for the light since we were camping, but Meyer said that even a bright moon can diminish the power of the sky.

While looking at the sky tonight in a dark place with your naked eyes is ideal, if you have a small telescope that you feel like dragging out, Saturn and its rings will be visible in the early evening.  The moon will also be prime for viewing.

A natural color view of Satury during equinox. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Meyer suggested aiming the telescope at the line between light and dark on the moon in order to get a 3D view of craters.

But ultimately, Meyer said the best way to celebrate if you’re living in Chicago is to: “get in the car, drive out to Woodstock where the cows are and see what you can see.”

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