Tips for Skywatchers

Tips For Skywatchers

Just spread out on a blanket, or drop yourself off in a lawn chair. And slip into the land of twinkling zillions. This visit into the land of those extra terrestrial zillions can be immense fun to last a lifetime. Only it's a matter of being familiar with them. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. To help, we've outlined a few sample talking points and simple activities.

Before getting started:

For those watching for the first time some points are to be made clear. It will help locate the right one at the right place. As a matter of fact, there are so many of them, with an apparently same luminosity, it is easier to lose any of them than to keep track. Instead of picking up one by one, it is wiser to pick up the groups of stars, called constellations. So, identify those constellation. It is helpful. Because, the patterns of the constellation have hardly changed since the time of the Babylonians. But as more thousands of years pass and the motions of the stars through space continue, changes in the constellations will become evident.

Though today's astronomers peering through huge telescopes do not care much about the constellations but it is important for the amateurs. Especially the naked-eye stargazers who want to learn the heavens should be thoroughly familiar with these brightest stars.

However, modern astronomers still use the traditional constellations to divide the sky into distinct regions. While they have added some faint constellations to fill in the gaps between the bright ones, they have retained the ancients names. Thus the whole sky is divided into 88 constellations.

All you need:

blankets, or, lawn chairs
telescopes, binoculars, or, even naked eyes will do*
a chart you can understand enough to suit to your local area
a flashlight covered with red cellophane or plastic.
a thermos of coffee and something to eat
(even if you don't plan to make it till dawn)
a diary
a pen

* seeing through them. Also, it's hard to hold them steady enough for a long time. You can try them, but until you learn the sky, they will hardly be useful in telling you what you're looking for.

The view:

You can either go in for a lie-on-the-back posture, or, sit with your face tilted up. Whatever you do, make sure to settle with a comfortable posture. So, your neck doesn't ache for holding up for a long time. Now it's time to gaze at the night sky. But before getting confused with the millions and millions of them (well, as a matter of fact, around 6,000 can be seen without a telescope), pick up one that can help you keep your direction in that huge sea of stars. For those in the northern hemisphere, it's best to get started with the Polaris, the bright star in the Northern horizon. The circumpolar stars of the north are visible; that's always the best place to begin learning the night sky.

Let's look north at Polaris (Lakota Wichapi Owangila, star that stands in one place). This is the most useful direction for peoples in the northern hemisphere to look at the skies. If you take a sight on the elevation of Polaris above a flat horizon, the angle of elevation is your latitude. This will show -- how far north you are, in terms of angular degrees.

Now, locate others relative to the Polaris. An observer in the extreme north will see the northern stars almost up above the head and the southern stars lower. The daily spinning carries the stars across the sky, but the next night at the same time they look almost the same again. There is a slow shift throughout the year, however, so that the same view of the heavens comes about two hours earlier each month. Hence, the maps have to be labeled with the date and time to make them usable.

The apparent turning of the heavens is around a point midway up the northern sky, marked by the Polaris. Constellations that are near the Polaris never set and can be seen on all four seasonal maps. On the other hand, constellations too close to the South Pole of the heavens never appear at all to an observer in the Northern Hemisphere.

From the equator southwards these constellations appear higher in the sky as constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere sky has no bright star to mark its pole.

Now, go in for reading the charts. Hold your chart up above your head. This will help you the way compare the charted sky with the real one. First pick up the Polaris using your chart, matching it with your locality and timing. Well, if you're a first timer, and not familiar with astronomical terms, click here to know.

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