Exploring the Night Sky
I strongly relate to the quote in the banner at the top of this page.
“Every time I gaze at stars above, I feel small, big, infinite and connected all at the same time…”
Stargazing is awe-inspiring and does, somehow, make you feel small and big at the same time. Looking up at the sky on a clear night never ceases to fill me with wonder, especially in the absence of city lights.
A Few Personal Sky-Watch Highlights
I have many memorable nights spent watching the skies. My own unforgettable experiences include:
- My first time seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) – while canoeing in Algonquin Park, Ontario
- Climbing Mt. Fuji at night in a steady stream of people heading to sleeping shelters in preparation for the morning climb to see the sunrise
- Joining friends (who were members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) at an observation station in Ottawa – and watching shooting stars, while listening to observers all around shouting coordinates (although they meant nothing to me)
- Lying on the dock watching the sky while living and working in Lake Isle, Alberta (especially the time when a moose walked into the lake, not two feet away from me)
- Winter nights at the foot of ski resorts in Banff, Alberta
- Sleeping under the stars in the Moroccan desert with a good friend and our Bedouin guide
- Observing the Perseid Meteor Shower while camping at Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia (a dark sky preserve)
Tracking and Learning
While I am always drawn to the spectacle, I don’t know as much as I would like about the night sky. I can confidently identify only the most familiar constellations. Those are the ones we used to tell stories of to our campers when I was a camp program director. I have always had an interest in learning more so last month, I began a self-directed program offered through The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). It is free but there is a charge for Explore the Universe resources, which I recommend if you want to track to earn the certificate.
Explore the Universe—an introductory observing program
Visit the Explore the Universe Online page for more information and links to the recorded YouTube videos.
Explore the Universe (awarded since 2002) is aimed at the novice visual astronomer. Those who complete the program may apply for a certificate and pin—this is open to all, RASC members and non-members alike. This program will:
- Stimulate an interest in observational astronomy.
- Introduce good observing practices and techniques.
- Provide an introduction to all aspects of visual astronomy including stars and constellations, lunar, Solar System, deep sky, double stars, and some optional activities, including variable stars.
- Encourage active observing programs in RASC Centres.
One of the special features of this program is that it can be completed entirely using binoculars and the unaided eye.
Adventures in Photographing Our Night Sky
“Nearly 80% of the population of the United States lives somewhere that they’re unable to see the milky way.”
If you are in an area where you are not able to see the milky way, and have the opportunity to get 30 minutes out of the city, I highly recommend that you take it. I know you won’t regret it!! In fact, you’ll probably have a highlight of your own.
Share Your Memories of The Night Sky
Do you have special memories of watching the stars in the sky? Did you learn stories of the constellations as a child? If so, who taught you about the night sky?
Share about your favourite experiences in the comments.
The night sky is beautiful! I remember when I was a youngster learning about the big and little dipper from my dad. Lia loves checking out the sky and her biggest excitement so far is watching the moonrise over the ocean.
Mary Elizabeth, I love the opening quote and all you share about skywatching. My most formative memory of night sky watching was from the deck of the Sloop Clearwater around 1972. We sailed south on the Hudson River, arrived in the Bay around midnight and got a water-angle view of the Twin Towers, at that time the architectural symbol of New York City. Awesome!