Summer is quickly approaching and a favorite nighttime activity of many approaches: stargazing. Whether you're gazing alone or with others, The National Geographic Pocket Guide to the Night Sky of North America is the book to have with you.
Take a moment to savor the summer delights and craft some new traditions while learning the legends of summer.
Humans in prehistoric times built monuments to commemorate both the winter and the summer solstices throughout the world. Solstice comes from the Latin words sol meaning sun and sistere meaning to cause to stand still. As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky. Nature religions, both ancient and modern, hold the solstices in great esteem. Modern-day druids perform rituals based on old beliefs at Stonehenge each year. In the Americas, Machu Picchu and the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico show evidence of ancient astronomical design.
You know, because you've been told, that the Earth revolves around the Sun. You also probably know that planets other than our own have moons, and the way to test to see whether or not something is true is by experimenting. Thousands of years ago, these things were not widely known. The heavens above were anyone's guess, and the way things were was just the way the gods had made them. It was felt there was no need to truly understand them or put them in any kind of order.
How do the Sun and the Moon affect the Earth? Without the Sun, the Earth would be a big ball of frozen mud, just another asteroid, drifting in space with no gravity to anchor it here and nothing to give us heat and light. We could not be here without the Sun.
Each November 28 is celebrated as “Red Planet Day.” Red Planet Day commemorates the launch of the Spacecraft Mariner 4 on November 28, 1964. Its 228-day mission brought the spacecraft within 6,118 miles of Mars on July 14, 1965, sending us back the first close-up photos of the red planet.
Mars is a very bright planet, and when it’s in range, you can usually see it without a telescope. Of course, if you have a telescope—or binoculars—you will get a better look. Fortunately, in November the skies are usually clear, and Mars can sometimes be seen in the early morning. With the Internet, you can find a star chart or other guide to show you where the planets should be in the night sky. If you can’t see the stars where you are because of light pollution, ask if your parents can take you out in the countryside where the view is better.
Great stars above!
From our place beneath the heavens, the stars seem to be tiny pinpoints of light. People have seen patterns in the stars for thousands of years. In the storytellers' imaginations, warriors and princesses, flying horses and laughing coyotes all found their way to the stars. Some soothsayers still tell fortunes based on the mysteries of astrology, or the alignment of the planets.
Astronomers know that the real mysteries of space are much greater than the accidental alignments of the stars. Stars, in all their blazing glories of red, blue, green, yellow, and more, are pulsing and moving, swirling around in their galaxies which, in turn, move around the Universe. The stars themselves may be ages old, but we continue to learn more about them all the time. Recently, scientists discovered ten new planets--one of which is orbiting a very young star.
Peter Sis grew up in Czechoslovakia when the country was still a satellite of the Soviet Union. He remembers not having enough paper for drawing and only one kind of ink. Once a teacher caught him sketching in his notebook at school. She made him write over every page. In Czechoslovakia, there was not enough of anything, and drawing in a notebook was considered to be very wasteful. There were other sad things about living behind the Iron Curtain. The government controlled what could be said in public and written in books, especially if what was written criticized the people in charge.
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is a project that will publish one podcast per day, for all 365 days of 2009. The podcast episodes are written, recorded and produced by people around the world.