WHAT CAN WE SEE?
CONSTELLATIONS First there are the constellations. There are 88 constellations covering the whole celestial sphere. Which ones you can see will depend upon the season. Each season has its own celestial delights. There are summer constellations, spring constellations, winter constellations, and autumn constellations. Don't let colder weather keep you inside. The winter constellations are too wonderful to ignore because of weather. You must see Orion, Canis Major, Auriga, and Gemini. You must see Sirius, the brightest star in the northern hemisphere. Bundle up and get out!
It also depends upon the time of night your are out. I have always enjoyed watching the constellations move across the sky during the night. If you stay out for a long time, you will notice that constellations on the eastern horizon at 7:00 P.M. will rise to the zenith, the part of the sky directly overhead, and set on western horizon several hours latter. Watch the Dippers. They will make a complete circle around Polaris, the north star, during the night.
Speaking of the Dippers, you will notice that they and four other constellations are in sky all year. They are always above the northern horizon even in the daytime when we can's see them. They don't set. Instead they circle the north star, Polaris. These constellations are called the circumpolar constellations. They are Ursa Major (the Big Dipper0, Ursa Minor ( the Little Dipper), Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and Camelopardalis.
How do you find Polaris? That is easy! The two stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper farthest from the handle are Merak and Dubhe, the Pointer stars. They point to Polaris. Draw a line through them extending it northward about five times farther to the brightest star in the vicinity. That is Polaris, the North Star.
Remember not only are constellations beautiful, but they are also the addresses of everything else you want to see. If someone wants to visit you, you tell them that your home is at such and such an address. It is the same with the planets and all deep sky objects. If you want to see the Lagoon Nebula, you will need to look in Sagittarius, its address
THE PLANETS There are five naked-eye planets Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, and Venus. The planets are always near the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere. All of the constellations of the zodiac are on the ecliptic. Your sky guide will tell you what constellation a certain planet is in this time of year. Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus are always very bright. In fact Venus is the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon. There is only one problem with Venus. Sometime it is the Morning Star and sometimes it is the Evening Star. This month, December, it will be up in the evening starting.
Just an interesting note, Venus is so bright that it is a major cause of UFO reports!! To learn more about the nine planets, click.
SHOOTING STARS!! Shooting stars are really meteors. A meteor is a flash of light in the sky produced by a tiny piece of rock or a grain sand from space as it hurls into our atmosphere at a speed of about 25 miles per second. It is heated to incandescence by friction. If the meteor is not completely burned up as it travels through the atmosphere and ends up hitting the earth, it is called a meteorite. On a clear dark night, you can see five to ten meteors. The best time to see a meteor is after midnight.
If you are really lucky, you might see a fireball. They'll take your breath away! Most meteors are about the size of a grain of sand, but sometimes larger ones enter the atmosphere. These burn very bright and have long tails. I have seen fireballs that are brighter than Venus!! A fireball that explodes with an audible bang are called bolides.
Several times a year the Earth enters dust trails left along the orbits of certain comets. This causes a meteor shower. Meteors in a shower all seem to come from one small part of the sky, the radiant. The shower is named after the location of the radiant. Some showers do not put on that big of a show, but some are spectacular. One of those is the Perseids which occur around August 12. You can see about 75 meteors an hour. You can find out more about meteors and meteor showers by clicking .
MESSIER OBJECTS Once you have found the constellations, you are ready for the binocular sights. These are the deep sky objects such as nebulae and star clusters and galaxies. One place to start is the Messier objects. A French astronomer named Charles Messier was looking for comets in 1753. He cataloged many of the deep sky objects so that he wouldn't mistake them for comets. To learn more about the Messier objects click. To learn how to earn a certificate for finding Messier objects click or Binocular Messier Certificate. My astronomy class has begun work on the Binocular Messier Certificate certificate.
There are a great many more things to see. Your library will have books that can tell you what else your family can find, so get some books and read , read, read.