Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Constellations and the Night Sky

Some time in the 1980s I got frustrated with the constant change in knowledge, particularly in my own field. What we thought we knew was being overturned. This is the way it should be, though modified is more common than overturned. I look forward too it now, but at the time was regretting the efffort I had put in to learn something, only to see it discarded a few years later. (Historical note: It was the last gasp of Freudianism in the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, though ego psychology in its various forms does still get used in the treatment of personality disorders.) 

 I resolved to learn something more stable, and figured the constellations weren't going to change. I started going out, looking at the night sky in comparison to the charts I was holding. I gradually acquired some knowledge which, even though I neglect refreshing my skills for months on end, remains constant. These days there is an app which allows you to hold your device up to a section of sky, and it gives you a detailed version of that sector. It includes objects I have never seen with the naked eye, and some I know are not visible unaided under any circumstances, such as the minor dwarf planet Pluto. Loads of fun, though. 

 I will note in passing that if Sagittarius were being named today it would be called the Teapot. Look on the southern horizon yourself in the summer and see if you don't agree.

The planets keep moving around, of course, and are thus a little harder to keep track of if you aren't out at least once a week. But you get used to the range of possibilities of where they might be, at any rate.  Following the stargazer articles - in the Farmer's Almanac in the old days, on any of a thousand websites now - one is at first amazed at what remarkable times we live in.  This particular conjunction will not occur again for ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand!  Mars will never be farther/closer/so near the moon this year!  This comet will not return in any of our lifetimes! You keep thinking I'd better hustle my butt out there and find a good spot in a ten mile radius to look at this thing, no matter how cold it is. Eventually it dawns on you that there is always something going on. 

With all that in mind, there is something fun going on this week, and it's only going to get colder from here on out, so this may be the one you put your energy into.  Not me, of course. I am content with reassuring myself that the Winter Triangle and its three constellations are right where they should be overhead whenever I go out to the pickup. You have to get lucky or work hard to see Mercury, BTW.  If you don't have high clarity and a clear shot at the base horizon you ain't gonna see it. (With thanks to Bird Dog over at Maggie's.)


PenGun said...

As one who has owned expensive telescopes, and one who had a complete set of star charts, I can tell you a good pair of binoculars are very hard to beat for admiring out universe.

The star finding app has been around for long time in the Android environment.

Sagittarius encompasses Sagittarius A where the super massive black hole at the heart of our galaxy lives, a beast with perhaps several million suns mass. Very hard to see as so much dust is between us and it. We have been watching however and can observe stars and gas orbiting it at relativistic velocities. Some 30% of the speed of light in one case.

Reality trumps myth so hard, its difficult to see why people believe in the myths.

Grim said...

If you're interested in learning some new constellations, you may have the opportunity soon.

Donna B. said...

Since there were some parental objections to the chemistry sets I wanted to buy for my grandchildren, I bought telescopes. I thought I found a way around the chemistry objection by buying molecular model kits. The parents were fine with these, but the grandkids built dinosaurs and monsters. I entertained myself by building a molecular margarita.

The telescopes were a good investment -- I bought the best I could at the time -- and they are still being used. No signs of a fledgling astronomer... yet, but they are at least more familiar with the sky than I ever was. Or am. All of my grandchildren were fortunate to view the 2017 solar eclipse. It was a big deal for our family (any reason for a party).

I learned that baking is a better way to introduce chemistry. Alas, no fledgling chemists, but they do understand that baking soda and baking powder are different. The oldest grandchild seems to understand why and I egotistical enough to think it's because of me.

stillbill said...

If you like that app which lets you point at the sky and see what you're looking at, here's a link to fourmilab, a site which lets you set your location and generates a map of the sky for any time or year. You can edit how much info it shows, great fun.