The Cycle of Astronomy: What to Do on those Other Nights

So, there are these things called clouds.

If you are an astronomer already, you know where I’m going.  Read on anyway.

Yep, clouds. Clouds are often the bane of my existence when it comes to this stuff. All the good stuff lies beyond them. It seems like ever since I started astronomy, I’ve rarely had anything but cloudy nights. And on the rare non-cloudy night, it has been as cold as space is.

20140126-082701.jpg

When I see this on my astronomy weather app, I just have to let out a big sigh of disappointment.

However, there is a cycle to astronomy. Some nights I can look at stars. Some nights I can only see a couple. Some nights I can’t see any at all. Some nights I’m too busy or tired to do anything but think, however briefly, about it.

During nights that I can’t observe, however, I can go to the other part of the cycle of astronomy.  I can read, and I can reflect.

As a beginner, I tend to look at beginner texts.  The one I am reading now is Nightwatch, by Terence Dickinson.  It is a beginner book, but pretty good.  I’m almost done with it.  It covers the basics of equipment and has some beginner star charts.

NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe

I understand that Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope – and How to Find Them
is also a good book.

I also have enjoyed the forums at Cloudy Nights (aptly named).  Pretty much anything you ever wanted to know about astronomy can be found here, and they have specific sections for beginners.

Cloudy Nights Forum Page
Cloudy Nights Forum Page

Seriously, you can get lost in there.

For quick and dirty but comprehensive information on things in the night sky that I am currently researching, there is always the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to the Night Sky.  This book includes lots of information on things that you will see if you use a telescope, binoculars, or the naked eye.

For binocular research (which is limited due to its fixed limitations on magnification and aperture [ability to take in light]), I enjoy Touring the Universe through Binoculars: A Complete Astronomer’s Guidebook.  The funny thing is, I bought the book used off of Amazon.  It said it had scribblings, highlighting, etc.  I didn’t mind, thinking I might benefit off of someone else’s research, and that I would get the book at a discount, which I did.  Here’s the only scribbling I found in the book:

Clearly scribbling that will downgrade the value of a book.

The book is a guide to things that can be seen with a set of binoculars.  No, Virginia, you cannot see zits on the face of the Man on the Moon with binoculars.  For that, you might need the Hubble Telescope, if it is even THAT powerful.  That’s why books like this are important.

Another thing you can do is see what your local astronomy club is doing.  At this point, I’ve only been to star parties (more later when I get some pics from a local one in March or April).  However, I plan to get to some of the meetings (where they have lectures, etc.) when I get a chance.  They will range from extremely technical to simple, I understand.  But, I have found members of the club to be very approachable and enthusiastic about your progress in understanding and enjoying the hobby.

The other thing you can do is reflect on the hobby.  As a man of faith, I am often reminded of my favorite verses in the Bible on astronomy.

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,

And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,

Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.  (Isaiah 40:22)

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen 1:1-31).

I am sure that there are other writers, religious and secular, who have written on the feelings of awe one encounters when looking at the sky.  Whatever your beliefs, you have to admit that all of these are just wonderful examples of humanity’s reflection on the majesty of the creation that is above.  I really enjoy marveling at the wonder of what was made,  and I note that the more I look to the skies above, the more I appreciate what is here on the earth as well.

So, even on the cloudiest of nights, or during times when you can’t see the stars or anything else for that matter,

Foggy morning in the neighborhood, 12/13

you can always, always engage your sense of wonder.  That is what you can do on those Other Nights.

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