First: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an astronomer.
But I’ve always had a fascination with the night sky, and I think that most people share that fascination to varying degrees.
One of the best things about our park, in my opinion, is its relative removal from civilization. Not only does it afford us the opportunity to experience nature in a way that a lot of people never get to do, it also gives us a pretty dark night sky, perfect for star-gazing. I’ve known this for years, but isn’t it strange how every once in a while, something will happen in our lives that gives us a little reminder to appreciate the things we have?
As it happened, it was a guest named Jessica who re-opened my eyes, so to speak.
I met her as she was coming off the Eagle’s Nest hiking trail. Normally I wouldn’t necessarily have talked with her, but it was well after dark, so I stopped to make sure she didn’t need help. She said that she didn’t, and she and I struck up a brief conversation.
She told me that she had been down that particular trail because she liked to star-gaze on it. I told her that it was one of my favorite places to star-gaze myself, and that I had tossed around the idea of a nighttime tour for that purpose. She said that she thought it would be neat, but that she didn’t want to go.
“I don’t think I’d want to share it with anyone,” she said.
Just between you and me, dear reader, I know exactly how she feels.
On quiet nights, when I have a moment I like to go down those very trails for the excellent dark skies and privacy that I find down there.
After she and I finished talking, well I had to go down there myself, didn’t I? 🙂
The first constellation I see in the night sky (at the right time of night) is of course, Orion.
It’s among the first that many of us learn. Orion has several claims to fame, if you will. Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle juice, just like the movie that some of us remember) is in Orion. Betelgeuse is in fact the “shoulder of Orion” referenced in the even older movie “Blade Runner.”
Look further south in the sky and you see Orion’s belt. Look still further south and you will see three “stars” that make up Orion’s sword. Well that middle star is not really a star. It’s a nebula; one of the easiest nebulae to see with the naked eye. With good binoculars or a small telescope it is easy to see the shape of the nebula.
Now look outside the constellation, to the southeast. That bright star you see southeast of Orion’s belt is Sirius, the dog star. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky. If something up there is brighter than Sirius, it’s either a planet or a man-made satellite.
(Edit: I just thought that I should clarify – Sirius is not visible in the photograph above. It’s off the edge of that picture, to the bottom left.)
Just some interesting things one can see at a glance in the nighttime sky, if one takes a moment to look.
And for Jessica: keep looking at the stars, and good night to you, wherever you are. 🙂