Saturday, February 11, 2012

Night Skies

A number of events have recently converged to make me want to be more of a night owl. Not because I want to go chasing mice or go swooping through the air (although that certainly does hold appeal from time to time), but because I want to spend more time gazing up at our wonderful night skies.

I've always appreciated the wonderful night skies out in the middle of the Great Basin. Driving for over an hour to get anywhere means we don't have much light pollution, and since our elevation is nearly a mile high, the atmosphere is thinner and the stars that much clearer. But appreciation is a little different than understanding, and I'm finding that now I really want to understand what's out there in that big, black abyss.

Maybe it's partly due to listening to Douglas Adams' A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a book I remember reading in my teenage years. Listening to it recently made me roll with laughter and applaud his creative genius. Perhaps I'm more interested in the night skies because I've been finding out more about the nearby Astronomy Festival at Great Basin National Park this summer June 14-16 (which happens to coincide with the Snake Valley Festival June 15-17--a good time visit the area). Or maybe my curiosity is piqued by some Astronomy magazines I found, which show some outstanding photographs. They also contain some fascinating language that make me scratch my head:

black holes (are there red holes? blue holes? red holes? white holes?)
light years (are there heavy years? sound years?)
dark matter (what about light matter? obscure matter? transparent matter?)
extragalactic (would you like some fries with that? how about supergalactic?)
spiral galaxy (which way does it circle? Is it like toilets spiralling in different directions in the northern and southern hemispheres?)
white dwarf (okay, this isn't discrimination, right?)

Now that I have all you who actually know something about astronomy shaking your heads and hoping that I switch hobbies immediately, let me tell you, no, you can't get rid of me that easily. I think I'm going to try to wrap my head around this. After all, it's just a little creepy to look out at all those points of light in the night sky and think about someone on some other planet orbiting one of those little lights looking back at us. A good kind of creepy. A kind of creepy that puts me in my place and makes my worries seem pretty miniscule. And the huge dimensions of the universe are making my head want to bulge out until it has to be contained in an ever-enlarging galaxy. (Okay, astronomers, how many other basic principles did I just mix up in this paragraph?)

So in addition to the magazines and a couple of books, another place I've been gathering some astronomy information is from podcasts. One I particularly like is 365 Days of Astronomy. They have a podcast every day, usually about 10-15 minutes long (which is great for my attention span). The podcasts began in 2009, which was designated as the Year of Astronomy (you remember that, right?), and has continued since then. They're slowly running out of material, which means that they are replaying the best podcasts again, calling them encores. That's good for me! Two podcasts I particularly liked were on February 3, about what to look at in the night sky, and February 5, about space travel in science fiction (remember The Millenium Falcon or "Beam Me Up, Scotty?")

 Listening to the podcasts has made me go out and find Mars, which is in the photo above to the left of the moon. My night photography skills have a long way to go, but you can expect to see more night sky photos--and little bits of astronomy added to this blog from time to time. I won't become an astronomer over night--or even over several nights as I rarely am able to stay awake past 9 p.m., but hopefully little by little I can start understanding what exists beyond our rotating blue orb.

Feel free to share other good astronomy links, your thoughts on the night skies, or what star you'd like to visit in the comments.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to visit a Y dwarf. They're a type of brown dwarf, or "failed star", but they can get as cool as 80 deg F which means a visit might actually be quite pleasant!

In any case, great hobby! Please share what you learn with us.

Sandy said...

Your blog is very interesting and informative. I don't know a whole lot about astronomy but I find it interesting nonetheless. Good job on finding Mars. Great photos...I will have to see if I can find mars next time I'm looking up. =)

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