pieoverdone, star hustler
April 29, 2006 2:48 PM   Subscribe

So I'm driving to Salina, KS in the middle of the night and I realize that in all that nothing, I can look out my windshield and I can see stars. Like, all the stars. And I think that it's a bummer that I don't know that much about what it is I'm looking at.
posted by pieoverdone (41 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post Pie, very nice post. Let's hang out again soon.
posted by horseblind at 3:13 PM on April 29, 2006

"Thou shalt not buy thy spouse any lenses, filters, dew shields, maps, charts, or any other necessities for Christmas, anniversaries, or birthdays unless thy spouse needs them for their own telescope."

Ha! Brilliant. Great post.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:15 PM on April 29, 2006

I too often wish I knew a bit more about what stars are which. This is a pretty cool web application that allows you to see what the sky looks like (with constellation names) at any given lat and long, looking in any particular cardinal direction. If there weren't so much light pollution here, I might actually find it useful ...
posted by bcveen at 3:17 PM on April 29, 2006

PS, be sure to check out Universe Today. They also have a great podcast.
posted by horseblind at 3:17 PM on April 29, 2006

well of course there's apod to check into...but this book is the best introduction you could ask for...
posted by sexyrobot at 3:29 PM on April 29, 2006

Thou shalt not reveal to thy spouse the true cost of thy telescope collection; only the individual components and that shall be done with great infrequency.

Great stuff!! But considering the cost of some of those eyepieces, I don't think that's a good thing either.

This sounds like a good addition:

Thou shalt not buy more than one AP Scope or one Hydrogen Alpha filter, dost thou challenge to rise above the power of thy creator, who shall smite thee and transform thy telescope collection into a Bushnell 500X with Barlow.
posted by rolypolyman at 3:39 PM on April 29, 2006

Very poetic post. Thanks. I used to lead stargazing sessions at a summer camp and learned a lot of stars then.

A great constellation is The Hunting Dogs, Canes Venatici. It's kinda hilarious. Check it out: the stars alone, the picture they imagined. I can always find this one. ;)
posted by salvia at 3:40 PM on April 29, 2006

Stellarium is a great open source planetarium app for Windows, OS X, and Linux.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:50 PM on April 29, 2006

just fyi, there are only about 3000 stars that you can see with the naked eye in the entire sky...
posted by sexyrobot at 4:05 PM on April 29, 2006

My God, it's full of stars.

Enjoy this 'visionary 1920s film containing imaginative astrophysical visualizations' at the Prelinger Archive.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:14 PM on April 29, 2006

The most amazing thing a city-locked person may notice, once they get to a location with crisp, clear skies, is how incredibly bright the traditional constellations (big dipper, orion, etc.) really are, even against the glorious backdrop of billions of stars.
There's a good reason those particular combinations of stars were singled-out for posterity.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:20 PM on April 29, 2006

salvia writes "A great constellation is The Hunting Dogs, Canes Venatici. It's kinda hilarious. Check it out: the stars alone, the picture they imagined. I can always find this one. ;)"

I was just reading about that one (in Sue French's column in the May '06 Sky & Tel.). The association of the hunting dogs with those stars actually only dates back to 1687 when Johannes Hevelius first named that grouping a constellation. The dogs had in principal been around for nearly two hundred years, but each star atlas plotted them in a different part of the sky.
posted by Songdog at 4:32 PM on April 29, 2006

If we could see all the stars that are out there would the sky be white?
posted by RufusW at 4:39 PM on April 29, 2006

If we could see all the stars that are out there would the sky be white?

Olber's paradox, old son.
posted by Decani at 4:53 PM on April 29, 2006

Celestia, another open-source star viewer.
posted by arialblack at 4:55 PM on April 29, 2006

...Salina, KS in the middle of the night

Ah, to be sitting on top of Indian Rock on a hot summer night again, gazing out at the cars in the streets, crickets and katydids chirping in the grass nearby, the diesels of the nodding donkeys stuttering in the distance, dreaming of the big old world beyond the horizon while fireflies flicker under the trees across the cut.

Well, it's a bit too bright to star gaze there, what with the street lights of Crockett and Iron Avenue, but you can get in the car and drive out past Gypsum or Lindborg, turn off on some checker board country road and go for miles straight in the dark by the light of the stars, drive with the top down under the glow of the Milky Way.

Look--there goes a satellite. Over there...
posted by y2karl at 5:02 PM on April 29, 2006

I was actually somewhere between Topeka and Salina. It was really late and I was trying to look out my passenger side window and up top of my windshield and not total the car. I hadn't seen stars in ages and was overwhelmed.
posted by pieoverdone at 5:07 PM on April 29, 2006

Well, you could always Turn Left At Orion.

Obdisclaimer: One of the authors and one of the illustrators are friends of mine. However, I didn't know either of them when I first found this book. It's a solid resource to those new to the stars.
posted by eriko at 5:26 PM on April 29, 2006

I know what you mean--year before last, we drove across the mountains to Ellensburg, stayed at a motel and drove out that night on a farm road just out of town, drove out where it was dark and got out and sat on the hood and looked up at the stars. I hadn't seen the Milky Way in over a decade, not like that. It's amazing how many shooting stars and satellites you can see in a dark sky.
posted by y2karl at 5:34 PM on April 29, 2006

Nice post. Unfortunately, I can't help but remember Mr. Kennedy at Suffern High School. We had a planetarium, and weeks of earth science devoted to astronomy. And Mr. Kennedy tried to teach us/me the constellations, but try as I may, only the most famous ones were retainable. And this is the first time I felt really stupid and inferior.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:36 PM on April 29, 2006

Songdog, that's really interesting.
The dogs had in principal been around for nearly two hundred years, but each star atlas plotted them in a different part of the sky.

I love all the Kansas references (Wichita native here) and poetry in this thread. My most intense star experiences were two summers, camping out in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, when this amazing thing kept happening. I'd be sleeping on a hilltop or mountain ledge, and around 2 or 3 am, I'd wake up to the overwhelming sensation of being suspended over a shimmering bowl of stars. I'd involuntarily reach for handholds in the grass next to me, scared gravity would give out. Talk about feeling inferior, as ParisParamus says.
posted by salvia at 5:59 PM on April 29, 2006

See The Stars, Find the Constellations.

And, as eriko says, Turn Left at Orion. Unlike eriko, I've known one of the illustrators since college. It's still a good book.
posted by jlkr at 6:03 PM on April 29, 2006

Driving east through west KS on I-70, I was pointing out those constellations I know to my then-young son. I finally pulled off the highway onto one of those long section roads and we laid out on the warm hood looking up. Much safer than blazing down the interstate looking up... I'll have to ask him if he remembers that.

Where I live now, I fall asleep every night star-gazing. But, I still have too many neighbors...

One of these days I'll get fed up & take my I-net satellite earth station and go find a place with an older view.

Thanks...lotta' nice links.
posted by taosbat at 6:41 PM on April 29, 2006

...and go find a place with an older view.

I love that, taosbat.
posted by Songdog at 7:08 PM on April 29, 2006

I'm with you Paris, my dad tried to teach me the constellations several times, and today I can barely find orion and the dippers.

Ah yes, I remember memory. what?
posted by DesbaratsDays at 7:31 PM on April 29, 2006

and, of course, thanks pieoverdone!
posted by DesbaratsDays at 7:32 PM on April 29, 2006

Another ex-western KS dweller here, and while it's common for people to rag endlessly on the flat boring featurelessness of the landscape, I never understand why the hell they just don't look up. That's where all the scenery is, and it is endlessly lovely.

Night swimming is so goddamn beautiful under a full trembling sky of stars.

Thanks for the reverie, pieoverdone.
posted by melissa may at 8:06 PM on April 29, 2006

Great post.

I remember, as a kid, the first time I got out of the city and saw a truly dark sky. A crisp winter night when Orion, to my ten year old eyes, looked like he was going to pull the sword from his belt at any second. So vivid. So real. So reliable at a time when nothing else was.

Thanks for bringing me back and reminding me that there is wonder to be found in something as commonplace as the night sky.
posted by cedar at 8:06 PM on April 29, 2006

[this is good]
posted by killdevil at 8:40 PM on April 29, 2006

Few things can make me more awestruck than the brilliance of a dark sky filled with stars. My dad used to be an amateur astronomer, and I have lots of fond memories of nights when he'd stand outside with me and point out some astronomical wonder, like Halley's Comet when it passed through in 1986. Nice post.

I came across the Neave Planetarium in my web wanderings a couple months back; it's a neat toy to play with.
posted by Aster at 8:48 PM on April 29, 2006

Salvia: Talk about feeling inferior.

Talk about being part of something huge.
posted by bru at 8:59 PM on April 29, 2006


posted by taosbat at 9:32 PM on April 29, 2006

Very cool — I'm a contented urbanite these days, but it's a good night when I can see a star or two, and that makes me sad. (Tonight it's raining lightly and cloudy in Chicago and I can't see a single one.) In 2000 I spent a while going up the Intracoastal Waterway from Florida to North Carolina on a small sailboat, and in some of the less-inhabited areas (such as rural Georgia, where I went days without seeing a building or a road) the stars were fucking incredible. I don't miss much about the middle of nowhere, but I do miss that.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:39 PM on April 29, 2006

In college, Dr. Sidhu took a group of his astronomy students to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV one weekend. Our first night there, a group of us wandered out of the dorm and into the control room of the 43-meter telescope here. The folks running it that night didn't appreciate our intrusion, but we still got a full tour of the thing the next morning. The next night, they left us in charge of this one.

Best field trip ever.
posted by emelenjr at 10:24 PM on April 29, 2006

I don't miss much about the middle of nowhere, but I do miss that.

My thoughts are along the same line. I went for a walk tonight, after the rain and saw the crescent moon and went home and pulled out the telescope to look at it. I could set it just so and watch The side lit mountains and craters and the faint gray of the dark of the moon slowly slide across the field of vision. And I wondered how it would look in a dark sky, how much brighter the earthshine on the dark of the moon might show. I have seen aurora three times here in Seattle and wished each time I could have been in the middle of nowhere to be watching them. Which, unless you want to drive five miles up a gravel logging road to a lookout out near Issaquah, means somewhere on the other side of the mountains in these parts.
posted by y2karl at 10:40 PM on April 29, 2006

Thanks, pie, this was a wonderful post and timely, too. We just got a lens/scope converter for our 50mm lens, and the sky is clear tonight and oh, I think I'm going outside now.... Also, thanks to jlkr for the H.A. Rey book refs - I grew up learning the sky with those books.... :)
posted by Lynsey at 10:41 PM on April 29, 2006

Oops, I left out a 0 there; our 500mm lens....
posted by Lynsey at 10:46 PM on April 29, 2006

Silly Lynsey. You have a 500mm reflex Nikor. With your new toy you now have a 50 power telescope. Hehehe
posted by tonebarge at 10:48 PM on April 29, 2006

My mother used to sit out in the back yard on summer evenings, star-gazing and looking for satellites and meteors (and have a nice drink and a cigarette or four, heh). It's a nice memory, lying on my back in the warm darkness, counting falling stars, waiting for the ones that make you gasp aloud.

The night sky is so insipid and uninspiring in a city. It's no wonder that people feel... no wonder at the stars.

We drove from Salmo, BC to Castlegar, BC one summer evening during a family reunion, and stopped at a nice spot on the pass, and I made my husband get out of the car and look up.

It was the first time he, a city boy, had ever, really seen the night sky. He said it made him feel dizzy to look up and see all those stars, like he was going to fall upward into them...

You have to find the dark to find the magic.
posted by Savannah at 8:19 AM on April 30, 2006

I moved to San Diego County not quite a year ago, and I realized that when I take the dog out after dark, I can see the stars better here than I've been able to in years. I know nothing about astronomy, but it's fun to estimate the time by where Orion is in the sky (until it disappears in the springtime) and to see how the Big Dipper rotates around the north star (which I could never locate before) throughout the year. Great post.
posted by diddlegnome at 5:00 PM on April 30, 2006

Just FYI, for those of you who have never been to the midwest. Going all the way to Salina is not necessary to see a beautiful, wide-open night sky full of stars. You can see the same thing from suburban Kansas City; I see it right now.
posted by bingo at 8:29 PM on April 30, 2006

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