Skywatcher Tricks to Explore the Skies

The night sky leads to a fascinating discovery of light.  Even if a telescope isn’t available, the naked eye possesses the ability to see mythological stories presented as constellations in the heavens.  Finding Ursa Minor leads to more than just one bright star. Consider the extraordinary study of the universe.  You, too, can learn the stories bridging constellations and Greek Myths, Native American culture, and other sky-watchers living close by who seek the knowledge of the cosmos. 

Optimize Your Vision 

The retina has two types of receptors that are stimulated as light enters the human eye.  While the “cones” respond to color, the “rods” help clarify vision.  Peering out into the darkness, it takes time for the rods in your peripheral vision to adjust to the dimness.  Be patient and do not look directly at light.  If you look at it from an angle, hues will appear based on the stars’ temperature.    Cold stars are orange-red, yellow-orange, and yellow-white, while super-heated stars show variations of blue.   

Why Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?

Have you ever wondered why starlight tends to dance and shimmer?  The answer has to do with the thick layers of the atmosphere.  Upon reaching turbulent layers, the light must pass through, causing the shine alternatively to diminish and grow stronger.  It is not a glitch. A telescope will not help to improve visibility in this instance; instead, the image will appear cloudy.

Ursa Major Leads North to Polaris

The “Big Dipper” is the ideal place to start when scouting constellations.  Face north, looking up at the horizon.  You should be able to spot its orientation halfway up.  It has a four-starred handle and rectangular cup.  Depending on the season, the bowl may face up, sideways, or down.  Once found, you can follow the two vertical stars on the cup northward to find the North Star, Polaris and Ursa Minor’s tail.  It too has a cup, although smaller in size and its handle comprises four stars.  

Sky Hopping Using Ursa Major 

Following the curved handle of Ursa Major, continue the arc until you reach the fourth-brightest star in the sky, Arcturus.  The orange star’s light takes 36 years to extend through to our solar system.  Look at the constellation leading to Arcturus.  It resembles the shape of a kite.  

Regulus and Leo the Lion 

Starting with the handle side of the Big Dipper’s bowl, extend your vision outward in a straight line.  The stopping point is the brightest star in the constellation, Regulus.  It also marks the corner, the breast, of Leo the Lion, totaling nine stars. Look up to see the lion’s head.  

The Green Flash 

In the dog days of summer, start spending the evenings gazing at the sunset with a purpose.  A fleeting mirage will result from the heat emanating from our atmosphere.    At just the precise angle, the light will separate from white light into a spectrum of colors. 

The red, yellow, and orange hues will disappear, leaving behind the green, blue, and violet light.  Pay close attention; if you are at the right angle, the remaining color spectrum of the prism will flash not red, but green! 

Perseids Meteor Shower

Mark your calendar for August 12th and 13th.  North Carolina’s best meteor shower of the year arrives!  Named after the constellation Perseus, this meteor shower can produce a volley of over 100 meteors per hour, a quality shower! If you have not witnessed the phenomenon before, the fireballs leave long trails of light and color as they streak across the sky.  Don’t worry about locating the constellation before viewing.  They aren’t necessarily connected! Try to view the shower in the hours after midnight.  

Two additional dates to mark in 2021: 

  • Blue Moon, August 22th
  • Draconids Meteor Shower, October 8th 

The Man on the Moon

Fortunetellers and astrologists speak of timelines connecting the planets to upheavals on earth, with words such as “retrograde” and “alignments.” Stay away from the beach, for instance, during an alignment of planets.  You’ll experience flooded roads.  Is it a myth that the full moon influences behavior? Studies prove seeds germinate faster, and water rises and increases its pull during a full moon.  

Perspective from Time and Person 

Skywatchers go back to ancient times, with such notable names as Pythagoras, Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Nicholas Copernicus.  These were men who stood and looked to the heavens and wondered, “What’s up there?” So can you!


Next Month: Skywatcher Presents Time and Direction


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