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Under our night skies


A 9-year-old boy's uncle gives him a telescope just big enough for him to handle. He rushes outside with the 4-inch mirror.


A 9-year-old boy's uncle gives him a telescope just big enough for him to handle. He rushes outside with the 4-inch mirror. All of a sudden, Saturn's rings slide into focus in front of him. Later, Scott Conner will gaze on stardust clouds and faraway galaxies, once-in-a-lifetime planetary eclipses and of course, the moon. As an adult, he'll even love astronomy enough to become president of the Evansville Astronomical Society. But for now, all that matters is the thrill of the first time he's seeing something that most people will only experience through a photograph.

With technology no more advanced than what Galileo first used to see the rings of Saturn in 1610, anyone can find something to fascinate them in the sky. It's easy to overlook what's happening above us when we are so busy during the day. After all, a passing cloud or airplane may be the most you'll see. What we forget is that space is closer than we think. As British astronomer Fred Hoyle once said, "Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards." Luckily, you don't need to drive more than an hour to stargaze in Southern Indiana.

Long winter nights and dry spring evenings offer some of our best stargazing as they reveal dazzling colors and changing constellations in the night sky. Get ready to lose your head in the clouds as we gaze through telescopes with local astronomers, find the constellations and hike by the light of the moon.

Star light, star kind of bright

Joey Simmons

You don't have to be an expert to go outside and gaze at the night sky. Sometimes all you need are a few good friends, a telescope and a love for the million stars shining above us. 812 Magazine visits with three amateur astronomers who love the night sky.

Bill Johnson, president of the Stonebelt Stargazers

Why do you do this? Ever since I was little, I have had a passion for the stars. The Stonebelt Stargazers allows people with or without experience to come together and share their love for the stars and sky.

Where do you meet? We meet on the third Monday of each month at the Morrow Observatory on the Bedford North Lawrence High School Campus.

How can someone join? First you have to attend one of our meetings just to get a feel for what we do and meet all of the members. There is a membership form on our website to fill out along with a $15 fee that is due annually. Everyone is welcome.

What are your favorite things to look for? Seeing the rings of Saturn and the Orion nebula is something else.

For more information on the Stonebelt Stargazers, visit http://www.mainbyte.com/stargazers/index.html

Kyle Devine, member of the Evansville Astronomical Society

Why do you do this? I'm an astronomy major at USI. It's good practice for lectures and exams to get outside and actually look for what we are learning about in class.

Where do you meet? We meet every third Friday of each month at the Wahnsiedler Observatory. Sometimes we have picnics outside the Observatory when it is nice outside before the sun completely sets.

What major sights have you seen? Without a doubt, the most amazing thing I've seen is a meteor shower. The sky was filled with shooting, sparkling diamonds. It was absolutely magical.

For more information on the Evansville Astronomical Society, visit http://evansvilleastro.org/

Elizabeth Melton, VP of the Rose-Hulman Astrology Club

Why do you do this? To share my love for the stars. I love to see new members come not knowing what they'll see, and then leave amazed and more than ready to come back the next week. It's truly a wonderful feeling to share your passion with others.

Where do you meet? Every Thursday at 8 PM, we meet at the Oakley Observatory on the Rose-Hulman campus. The facility is kind of hidden, so it's quite an adventure for our new members.

What is the most exciting thing you've witnessed? Last year I saw my first lunar eclipse. Everyone needs to witness this at least one time in their life.

For more information on the Rose-Hulman Astrology Club, visit http://www.rose-hulman.edu/astronomy/home.php

What to see when

Add these must-see astronomical events to your calendar as you start stargazing.

January 3, 4: Quadrantids meteor shower. You may see up to 40 meteors per hour when they are at their peak.

April 14-20: International Dark Sky week. This week, turn off your outdoor lights and bask in the glow of the Milky Way while you save energy and reduce light pollution.

April 20: Astronomy Day. Local clubs worldwide celebrate Astronomy Day with special events.

April 21, 22: Lyrids meteor shower. This shower usually produces about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. The moon may cause some viewing problems with this one.

April 28: Saturn comes closest to Earth. It will be fully lit by the Sun and you should be able to see some of its moons.

May 5, 6: Eta Aquarids meteor shower. Look to the east after midnight to see this light meteor shower.

May 25: Lunar eclipse. As the moon slides into Earth's shadow, the eclipse should be visible throughout North America.

May 28: Venus and Jupiter appear close together with Mercury nearby. You'll find them in the west after sunset.

River of stars

Erin Boland

Even with the best vision, you can't see everything in the night sky unaided. That doesn't mean you need to rush out and buy a telescope, though. Most astronomy clubs recommend that you start with a pair of binoculars. Bill Johnson from the Stonebelt Stargazers also recommends finding a star chart online or in a bookstore. "All the stars are in the same relationship to each other. They just may be in a little different part of the sky each night," he says.

More important than the equipment you use is where you start stargazing. Look for local astronomy clubs hosting star parties that are open and free to the public. They meet everywhere from state parks to river-fronts. Southern Indiana's vast public lands make it easy to find a dark spot away from it all. It's best to get on high ground with open space overhead. Don't worry if you don't have 360-degree visibility. There will still be plenty of sky to see.

Where to stargaze

George Neireiter of the Evansville Astronomical Society suggests visiting the following places for some outdoor stargazing away from home.

Brown County State Park - Nashville

Monroe Lake - Bloomington

Spring Mill State Park - Mitchell

Clifty Falls State Park - Madison

McCormick's Creek - Spencer

Falls of the Ohio - Clarksville

Build your own telescope

You can choose from many different types of telescopes, but you can build the simplest kind right at home. 812 shows you how to build an easy refracting telescope that should let you examine the moon and some star clusters.

Materials:

  • \0xAD\0xAD2 magnifying glasses. One should be larger than the other. A diameter of 1 to 1.5 inches works best.
  • 1 cardboard tube, such as a wrapping-paper tube. A paper towel tube works also, but it helps to have a longer tube.
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • A ruler, yard stick or tape measure
  • Printed material, like a newspaper or magazine. This will help you focus your telescope later.
  • A friend to help you measure

Instructions:

1. Start with your two magnifying glasses and the printed-paper.

2. Hold the bigger magnifying glass between you and the paper, which should look blurry.

3. Hold the smaller magnifying glass between you and the first magnifying glass.

4. Move the smaller magnifying glass around until the paper comes into focus. The text should look larger and upside down.

5. Have your friend measure and write down the distance between the two magnifying glasses.

6. Cut a slot in the cardboard tube about an inch from one end. Don't slice all the way through, but make sure it can hold the large magnifying glass.

7. Cut another slot at the distance from the first slot that your friend measured in step 5.

8. Place the glasses in their slots.

9. Make sure that the telescope is still in focus.

10. Duct tape all around the glasses once it is properly focused.

11. Leave no more than an inch of tube behind the small magnifying glass and cut off the extra tube.

Roadmap to the skies: Name that constellation

Joey Simmons

Orion (Winter)

Orion, the mythical hunter, is one of the most brilliant and recognized constellations in the world. In one myth, Orion fell in love with seven sisters. He pursued them until Zeus scooped them up and placed them in the sky far from Orion's reach. Orion can still be seen chasing the sisters across the sky at night.

To find Orion, look for the three bright stars of his belt. Then find seven bright stars in the shape of an hourglass. To the west is an arc of stars that are his shield or bow. The brightest star on Orion is Rigel. His second-brightest star is Betelgeuse, which can be described as Orion's right shoulder.

Pisces (Spring)

Commonly known as the fish, Pisces represents the story of Aphrodite and Eros escaping Typhon. In one account Aphrodite and Eros are turned into fish and swim away. Mother and son had ties their tails together so they would not be separated.

Finding Pisces is a piece of cake. Just look to the south west of Andromeda and directly below the Great Square of Pegasus. First locate the "Circlet" on the western end of Pisces. From there, follow the line of stars making the Western Fish to Alpha Piscium, the brightest star of Pisces. Then move up and to the right along the line of stars marking the Eastern Fish.

Pegasus (Summer)

This constellation is highly known as Hercules' flying horse. Pegasus was originally the result of the frowned upon mating of Medusa and Poseidon. It was born when Medusa had her head cut off by Perseus. Later on, Pegasus made his way to Mount Olympus where he spends his days carrying bolts for Zeus.

Pegasus is marked by "the Great Square of Pegasus," four stars in the horse's body that form a square whose sides are each over 10 degrees (the width of your fist, held up to the sky) across. You can find the Square of Pegasus by following the line from the pointers of the Big Dipper. It is also directly above Pisces.

Now that you know a little history about these three constellations, try to find them in the sky chart. All 88 constellations are drawn out; you just have to identify which one is what from the clues given in the descriptions. Click here for the answers. Good luck!

Photo courtesy of the Indiana University Astronomy Department

3 great apps for stargazing

Although they can't magnify what you're seeing as a telescope can, cellphones are becoming handy pocket guides to the skies. Below are Apple and Google's most popular apps for iPhone and Android.

1. Star Walk

Featured in iPad commercials, this app labels any stars, constellations or satellites that you point your cellphone toward. It knows where the International Space Station is and can show you the constellations. You can also see what the sky looks like at any time in the past or future.

($2.99, iOS)

2. Sky Map

Google applied their map-making skills to the skies for this Android app. Just aim your phone at the sky and an arrow will help you find what you are looking for.

(Free, Android)

3. Stargazing Log

Keep track of everything you find while stargazing with this app on Android. It lets you browse previous sightings and see statistics about what you've seen. Includes a flashlight that glows with red light to save your night vision.

(Free, Android)

Ask the experts

By Joey Simmons

Constantine Deliyannis


Eileen Friel

Have you ever wondered about the stars and the planets and the moon? 812 Magazine asked Indiana University astronomy experts Constantine Deliyannis and Eileen Friel 10 frequently pondered questions.

Why does the moon shine?

The moon shines because it acts as a mirror. It reflects the light of the sun. The moon basically bounces sunlight from the dayside of the Earth to its night side.

What is a blue moon?

I wouldn't say you could see the moon as blue. The term comes from the third full moon in a season that has four full moons. The second full moon in a calendar month is usually known as a blue moon. It only happens every two or three years.

What is a harvest moon?

The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. About once every four years it occurs in October, each year is a different date.

How far away is the closest star?

The nearest star is Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star located 4.2 light-years away. A light year is the distance light travels in a single year - 9,460,528,000,000 kilometers. So the light coming from the Proxima Centauri left the star 4.2 years ago. It would take us more than 50,000 years to reach the star in our fastest spacecraft.

How long do stars live?

The mass of a star defines its lifespan. The largest stars probably have 150 times the mass of the sun. For example, Eta Carinae is about 8,000 light years away. It was probably formed 3 million years ago. It consumes fuel so fast that it could detonate as a supernova any day now.

Are the constellations permanent?

Constellations are not permanently fixed to their location. It is highly unlikely to see them change during a lifetime, though. It would take 180 years for a star to move the width of the moon.

Where in the galaxy are the most stars born?

Stars are born throughout the galaxy. It also depends what type of galaxy you're talking about. For example in our galaxy, the Milky Way, stars are most likely born in the galaxy's arms. Since the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, our star, the sun, is in one of these spiral arms.

Where do individual star names come from?

They are usually named after people or animals in myths. The names of individual stars are a little more complicated. The majority are related to their constellation, others describe the star itself. Then there are handfuls that seem completely out of place - possibly a relic from a previous and now extinct constellation.

What is the difference between a lunar and solar eclipse?

A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth comes between the sun and the moon in such a way that it blocks the sun's rays from reaching the moon. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun in such a way that the sun is blocked from view.

Are horoscopes accurate?

There is no certainty that horoscopes from magazines, newspapers and websites are accurate. They'll most likely be different except for syndicated stuff. In my opinion, horoscopes are just something fun to read that occasionally matches up with something you have experienced in your life.

Planetariums of Southern Indiana

Erin Boland

Sometimes binoculars just don't cut it. When you need a deeper look into space, visit these three Southern Indiana observatories.

Kirkwood Observatory

727 E. 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN 47405

(812) 855-7736 (Observatory hotline for weather updates)

The IU Astronomy Department hosts free open houses almost every Wednesday night from the end of March into November. The time changes somewhat, but astronomers try to schedule them as early as possible when it's still dark enough to star gaze. It has a 12-inch refracting telescope.

James G. Baker Center for Astronomy

3192 E. Curby Road
Curby, IN 47118 (1 hour north of Louisville)

The Louisville Astronomy club hosts star parties on the third Saturday of every month at their 40-acre viewing space in Crawford County. Their observatory has a roll-off roof and is equipped to take pictures of the stars. Members of the club also set up their own telescopes for the public to look through.

Koch Planetarium

411 SE. Riverside Drive
Evansville, IN 47713

(812) 425-2406

Although it's not a true observatory, the Koch Planetarium, attached to the Evansville Museum, uses a star projector to describe constellations and other night-sky events. Every Saturday and Sunday they describe what will happen in the sky that night. Adult admission is $3, children 3-12 are $2 and children under 3 are free.

Hiking with Brown County Moonwalkers

Erin Boland

You don't have to sit with a telescope to enjoy the nighttime view. Try taking your favorite trail by the light of the moon (and a flashlight, of course). 812 accompanied the Brown County Moonwalkers on one such night hike. If you are looking for a group of Moonwalkers in your area, don't be afraid to start your own. Groups like this often meet informally.


Flashlights bob down the gravel road. Despite heavy clouds, we are determined to take our moon hike even if we won't actually get to see the moon tonight. Buddy, the hostess' adopted part-boxer stray, circles through the group until we break through the trees and reach the cemetery, where he disappears between the stones.

The Brown County Moonwalkers and I stand in the middle of the graves and stare at the thick gray clouds. "Look, there's the moon trying to peek through," one of the 12 hikers says. I don't see anything except a white smudge.

I'd never been on a night hike before. Although my family and I have logged plenty of hours on the trail, we'd always hiked under the assumption that being on the trail at night meant poor planning. For the Moonwalkers, it's one of the best ways to experience the outdoors. Every month they meet within one day of the full moon for dinner, friends and outdoor fun. These are people who "like to hike and people who like to eat," says Moonwalker Cyndi Schultz.

Sometimes they meet at a state park and other times someone offers to host. This month, we descend on Pam Raider's house off Highway 46 near Nashville for chili. And eggs, potatoes, rice casserole and wine, not to mention dessert.

Raider's party room above the garage fills with chatter as quickly as it runs out of table space. Eventually, the Moonwalkers resort to standing on the painted compass and zodiac calendar on the floor, waiting for it to get dark enough. Martha Tedrowe tells me about the friends she's made while coming to Moonwalker events. "When we do come, we know we're going to have a good time," she says. After moving to Brown County from Chicago after 9/11, Tedrowe and her husband had to start fresh with new friends. The Moonwalkers gave them the perfect opportunity.

Roughly five years ago (or six, or seven - no one seems quite positive) on a cold February night, a few "hardy souls" including Mike Kelley and Steve Grubbs went out on a night hike to see the full moon. The Moonwalkers haven't missed one since - in 60 full moons. Not everyone goes every time, but Grubbs estimates that he has attended at least 60 percent of the moon hikes.

Raider announces to the group that it's finally dark enough. We gather on the porch. I realize too late that my flashlight's batteries were on their last legs. The Moonwalkers start walking up the road. I fumble through my purse for the extra batteries I brought, just in case. They were a size too big. I was going to be doing my first night hike completely in the dark.

Luckily for me, we weren't going far. The Moonwalkers had a hard time predicting the weather for this month's hike. Rain was a definite possibility as was the first 40-degree night in a couple weeks. No one knew whether to bring raincoats or extra sweaters. So the group decided to take a shorter hike to spare the ears of those without hats. Surprisingly, weather is not usually a concern of the Moonwalkers. Raider prefers the winter hikes because she can avoid the summer's spider webs, briars and snakes.

In the cemetery, the wind picks up without tree trunks in its way. Every time we think the wind may clear a spot in the clouds, the hole closes. With no moon to look at, the Moonwalkers linger briefly, and then head back to Raider's house, where a few people are left around the bonfire.

When I park my car at home that night, I notice that the sky has gotten brighter. The moon shines down on me in its full glory, miles from where it was supposed to appear, but somehow even more appreciated.

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Constellation quiz answers

Finish the constellation quiz? See if you are now a stargazing expert and check the answers below: