Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Night Sky

I have always been enchanted by the night sky.  When I was a child, I was captivated as I looked up at the sky at night and picked out the planets, stars, and even a satellite or two.  I even learned how to locate a lot of the constellations.

I grew up among the city lights, so it was a wonderful treat to run away to the country where there were no invasive, intruding streetlights.  When my family would go camping in the mountains or at the beach, the sky was always unobstructed and dark.  At night, my Dad would point out different highlights in the sky such as Polaris, the North Star, and Orion.

Years later, these memories of the night sky fed an interest in astronomy that led me to further my education by borrowing books from the public library, searching Internet, and purchasing several books to soak up the information like a sponge.  I live in rural central Oklahoma and have beautiful dark night skies, perfect for viewing the planets, stars, and constellations.  I eventually purchased a telescope and then became reacquainted with the celestial friends of my childhood.

The winter constellations, the Pleiades (the little fuzz-ball), the Hyades (the v-shaped pattern), and Orion (with the yardstick), rising in the eastern sky on winter evenings are my favorites.  I welcome them back every year and so look forward to seeing them rise every night.  It is like greeting old friends again.

After I became fairly familiar with the night skies again, I held "star parties" and invited friends over to view the night skies.  A couple of other friends also had telescopes.  They would bring them over so there were three or four telescopes for viewing.  Sometimes there would be 10 or 15 people that would come to enjoy what the skies had to offer. 

During the summer because it did not get dark until late, the star parties did not get underway until around 10:00 p.m.  Some people would stay as late as 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., depending on how clear the skies remained.  During the winter, of course, things would get underway much earlier with the exception of the meteor shower parties.  Since the height of a meteor shower usually does not occur until just before sunrise, people would not start to arrive until around 4:00 a.m.  As you might imagine, the attendance was much smaller for these parties.  Also, no telescopes were needed.  Folks would bring their own chairs or sleeping bags to put on the ground.  I use a folding Coleman cot because it is so much easier to lie flat and stare up at the sky rather than try to hold my head back and stare up and wait for a meteor to streak across the sky.  Besides, during the winter it is cold outside in central Oklahoma, and I can always throw a sleeping bag on top of the cot and cover with a blanket if I need it.

One very cold November winter morning I was outside by myself waiting for the Leonid meteor shower to explode across the dark sky.  I was lying on the cot snuggled all cozy warm in the sleeping bag with a pillow and blanket.  Nothing was happening.  I must have closed my eyes.  All of a sudden, I heard a band of coyotes yapping and howling not too far away!  I opened my eyes -- where was I?  Oh dear!!  I must have fallen asleep in my little warm cocoon.  The yapping sounds were getting closer.  I quickly unzipped the side of the sleeping bag and took off running toward the house.  No way was I going to be an early morning snack!!  I was bummed not only because I had fallen asleep, but mostly because I had missed the whole meteor shower.  Fortunately, there is always next year!!

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