Thursday, March 01, 2007

Finding spring in the stars

Anyone else in the mood for a little Borland? Here's something a bit different about the late winter sky from Sundial of the Seasons:

"Days lengthen, but the nights are still bright with the Winter stars, frosty and sharp in the darkness. The Big Bear, the Dipper, swings to the east in early evening, and the Little Bear walks across the sky, his upright tail tipped with the polestar. The Twins and the Charioteer are almost overhead, and the Pleiades ride high, toward the southwest. The Lion is in the east and the Whale in the west, both within reach of the horizon, reminders of Daniel and Jonah.

February thins away. Before another new moon hangs on the western horizon at dusk, March will be nearing its end and the Big Dipper will be overhead, or at least above the polestar, by midevening. The fang of the night chill will be dulled. Hylas will be shrilling in the lowlands, April at hand.

The seasons turn, as do the stars, and those who live with the wind and the sun understand the inevitability of their changes. The full moon fades the constellations and dims the Milky Way, but it does not halt their progression or change their place in the sky. Come April, and the Dipper stands above the polestar at evening, and buds begin to open. Come October, and the Dipper sweeps the evening horizon, and maple leaves turn to gold and Fall is upon us.

February has its pattern, but it is a shifting pattern, with movement and change, and progression. The sun lingers, the new moon sits on the hills, the early Dipper hangs to the east, and the bud waits on the branch."

Most all of this is Greek to me. I can find the Big Dipper, and that helps me to locate the North Star, but beyond that I'm a foreigner in the land of the stars. The signs of spring found in the night sky are as lost to me as they are to a person who doesn't know birds or the late winter woods. I've never had anyone to teach me the stars, and somehow I think learning about the night sky should happen in a romantic sort of way and on long quiet walks with the sound of the ocean in the distance, maybe; certainly not alone with the Peterson's as my only teacher.

Do you know the stars? Who was your teacher? PG stories only, please!


Note: Clicking on the photo links to a page which names some of the stars that make up the Big Dipper, I think. I grabbed the photo from their site, anyway. If you can recommend a good site, or book, please do!


NatureWoman said...

Cool post Laura. My older brother and I used to look at the stars through his telescope especially on warm summer nights. We would end up sleeping outside under the stars, too. Living in the country there wasn't any ambient light and the sky was so full of stars we could see. He would point out the various shapes to me, but I never really absorbed it - except the big and little dippers. However, I love to go to planetarians to look at the sky. I go to anytime I want to see info about the sky - there's also links from there.

NatureWoman said...

Sorry Laura, I should edit my comments before submitting them. That should be planetariums.

Mary said...

I don't know much about stars either, but I do remember sitting on my front porch in Maryland, during the fall months, and seeing the Big Dipper every night to the west. I've seen several shooting stars in the past - the last one just a week ago. Interesting post, Laura.

mon@rch said...

I have a good friend who knows her stars very well! She has tried to teach me this or that but I can never rememeber each cluster of stars! But, I do enjoy seeing them and learning about them.

Anonymous said...

One fun and educational website is then click on Current Show Scrpts. Enjoy.


Body Soul Spirit said...

It is getting harder to see the stars due to light pollution. Twenty years ago we could see the aurora borealis in our neighbourhood but now there are so many malls and stores at our end of the city, I can hardly see the dippers. My daughter recently went camping in the desert in Mexico and her biggest delight was the night sky.

LauraO said...

Oh yes, I love the stars. I don't know a lot of them, but one of the easiest constellations(for me, anyway) is Orion, in a winter sky. Four stars in a huge rectangle, with three straight stars tilted upward in a line in the middle (his belt). Betelgeuse is the left top star.

If you locate Orion, then you can follow the upper right corner star (I think is Meissa or something like that) out in a line to find Aldebaron, and just past that is the filmy cluster of the Pleiades. Look at the Pleiades through binoculars on a clear night. Stunninig! Those are easier for me to find than the dipper.

Anonymous said...

A long ago boyfriend and I would hang out at Valley Forge National Park at night and look at the stars. There were always lots of people gathered there, willing to share a view through their telescopes. He knew lots of the constellations, and the stories behind. It was in the beginning of our relationship, so it was very romantic. And fun, and educational.

Being a parent of young kids, I find that I am not outside in the dark very often these days -- I'm helping the kids get ready for bed. I'm looking forward to when they are older, and can stay up later, and we'll take them out to see the stars.

Villanova University has a large telescope that anyone can go visit. I forget their schedule, but I love the idea of having that technology available to anyone who wants to venture in.

Wayne, PA

Liza Lee Miller said...

I'm with you, Laura. The stars are somewhat mysterious to me. I know a few constellations but not many. Still, I love being high in the mountains and looking up at the stars at night. They have so many more than we do! :)

Lynne said...

I love star gazing at night when we're up at Hasty. The sky is so much darker up there away from the cities. Art knows the constellations pretty well and points them out to us. We make a game of being the first to see a shooting star or satelite moving across the sky.

Dave said...

Which book is this from? Granted I'm tired, but i couldn't see where you cited the source...

LauraHinNJ said...

You couldn't find it Dave because I forgot to put it in. Thank you for the gentle reminder. It's from "Sundial of the Seasons".

LauraHinNJ said...

Naturewoman: Big brothers make good teachers - I think we had a telescope also as kids, but I don't remember ever using it.

Mary: You make wishes on all those falling stars, right?

Monarch: They are hard to remember - maybe if they stayed still.


Thanks for the link Cindy. Will check it out.

Ruth: It's really startling to get out in the country or the mountains and see the difference less light makes. Somewhere recently I saw photos taken from space that show just how lit up the planet is - the east coast of the US especially.

Laura: Thanks - I'll have to get out and hunt for Orion. It's cloudy tonight and the moon is almost full.

Heather: Thanks for the romantic story - I just knew someone would have one! I think that's the best way to learn; having a person point them out over and over.

Liza: lol! You must get lots of chances to appreciate them on your camping trips.

Lynne: Glad you have someone to stargaze with.

Cathy said...

When my son was just a kid we bought him a telescope. We'd pull it through snow drifts in his little red wagon in order to look at comets and star clusters. I think I was teaching him things for the first week - then the rolls reversed. He's now an astronomer at BU and gets to travel the world while looking up. Unfortunately the necessity of being up at night can dilute the pleasures of being in even the most exotic of places. ( Do check out

Patrick Belardo said...

I have an awesome piece of software called "Starry Night". It is a real-time map of the sky based on your longitude/latitude. You can have it show you constellations, planets, etc. It really helps to learn the night sky. Too bad that I've had it for over a year and have hardly used it!

Larry said...

I got a telescope for Christmas when I was a kid. I used to go out on my own for several hours at a time trying to figure everything out using a star map of the night sky.-The challenge of trying to finds something in the telescope is usually more interesting than the view itself. There are a few exceptions though-The moon, Saturn, Jupiter, nebulas in Orion in the winter and Sagitarius(teapot) in the summer.There are also star clusters to see. I recall three different types being visible in the constellation Auriga.I haven't done much stargazing for the past several years. I gave up my old telescope to my niece.-Some day I'll get the bigger telescope I've always wanted.-I look up astronomical events on Astronomy magazine website-