Stargazing: Things are looking up -- and so are we - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Stargazing: Things are looking up -- and so are we

You can view many of the stars from your yard, or a safe park or rooftop if you're in a city-- just avoid house and streetlights as best you can. © You can view many of the stars from your yard, or a safe park or rooftop if you're in a city-- just avoid house and streetlights as best you can. ©
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By Elizabeth Wells, Studio One Networks

The sky is full of stories waiting to be discovered. For centuries, people have seen these same points of light in the night sky. Stories borne out of the many constellations that eyes around the world have spent hours gazing up at, have been passed on from generation to generation. We can see these same images and share these same stories today. All you need is a clear night, a little patience, and some imagination.

A family in Los Angeles suggests adding the perfect background music. "Starwatching," by The Happy Crowd, provides lyrics that are right on target: "What a beautiful sight....We put our blanket out on the lawn...and we're star watching, what a beautiful night."

To prepare for a fun and successful night of star-gazing, you'll need a star map and a story or two about the major constellations. Internet has many sites that provide these maps and stories.

Let the kids know that there is a special event planned for them, gather your star map, a flashlight, a small notebook and a printout of a mythological story or two. You'll also want to include a few creature comforts such as lawn chairs, blankets, and bug spray. A Pennsylvania mom promised a late night treat but with a trade-off--the kids spent some extra time in their rooms in the afternoon. That night, the same mom put red bandannas over the ends of the flashlights to keep the ambient light at a minimum.

You can view many of the stars from your yard, or a safe park or rooftop if you're in a city-- just avoid house and streetlights as best you can. The best viewing is away from city lights. If you have access to a safe country location, your results will be even better. You'll notice that more stars become visible while you wait the half hour that it takes your eyes to fully adjust.

Just like any other map, you need to find where you are in order to locate anything else. The Big and Little Dippers are parts of two larger constellations known as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. The dippers, which look like ladles in the sky, are good reference points for the other constellations. First locate the Big Dipper. The two stars on the outside of its ladle also are called the Pointers. Follow a straight line from the Pointers upward out from the ladle to the North Star. The line will curve slightly as it follows the curve of the sky, and it will be about five times the distance between the two Pointers. The North Star, also called Polaris, is the end star on the handle of the Little Dipper. You will be facing north. Polaris isn't the brightest star in the sky. It isn't even as bright as five of the brightest stars in the Big Dipper, but it is the brightest star in its region of the sky. Sometimes it's hard to see all the "inside" stars of the Little Dipper. Once you've locked in on the dippers and know that you are facing north when you face Polaris, the rest of the sky will fall in place for you quite easily--honest! According to the B. family, "We had no trouble finding the dippers. Even without a map it only took a few minutes."

The stories of these ladles in the sky are also are a good place to start. Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are the bears in almost all mythological sky references. After sharing the story with the kids, talk about it a little. Then, using your star map, find it in the sky. This pattern can be repeated each time you select a new constellation to locate. Again, from the B's: "The children had never heard the stories before so they enjoyed them."

One 7-year-old boy from California loved the idea of keeping a journal of all his star sightings: "Bill was so excited to write all the details by the light of the sky and our flashlight," declared Bill, Sr. Record each constellation in your notebook after you find it, noting the date, time, weather and any other important observations. The log will help you keep track of what you have seen and when.

Most of all, be patient. It took hundreds of centuries for the stories of the constellations to emerge. Don't expect to find everything all in one evening. The more nights you spend exploring the skies, the more you'll find up there.

Indoors or out, the sky is a source of endless fascination.

Copyright (c) 2008 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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