[astronomyed] [Fwd: [K-I-H-S-S] Science Project: Observing the night sky]

  • From: Mary-Frances Bartels <ki0dz@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: astronomyed@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 00:23:47 -0400

Another e-mail from the K-I-H-S-S list . . .
Mary-Frances Bartels  ***  ki0dz@xxxxxxxx      (((#)))   ^     ^
http://www.qsl.net/ki0dz     Central Ohio         |       ^ - ^
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  • From: "Des" <dsohn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <K-I-H-S-S@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2007 10:54:57 -0400
This excerpt is from a book entitled, "Outdoor Science Projects for Young 
People" by George Barr. It's published by Dover Publications- 1991. There 
are 13 chapters in 160 pages. If you like this one, perhaps you'd like to 
purchase your own copy. ISBN 0-486-26855-1 On the back of the book it's 
listed as selling for only $3.95.

Observing the Night Sky-
taken from pages 148-155...
...Stargazing is one of the most fascinating hobbies. However, it takes time 
to develop the ability to look at the sky and recognize stars and 
constellations like old friends. By learning a few at a time, you can 
prepare yourself or a lifetime of pleasure.
Astronomers tell us that there are many millions of stars. But without the 
aid of a telescope you can only see between two and three thousand at one 
Stars are huge balls of hot gases like our sun. You have learned that our 
sun is 93 million miles away, but the nearest star is about 25 trillion 
miles away. Most stars are many thousand of times as far.
When you look at a star, try to remember that its light may have been 
traveling through space for many years. You are seeing it as it used to be. 
Light travels at 186,000 miles per second.  The distance light travels in 
one year is called a "light year". After our sun, the nearest star, Alpha 
Centaure (AL-fa sent-AW-ry), is 4 1/2 light years away. This is a dim star 
and can only be seen in the southern hemisphere. If you live in the northern 
hemisphere, the nearest bright star is Sirius (SEER-ee-us), the Dog Star. It 
is 8.6 light years away.
Some stars look brighter than others. This does not mean that they are 
larger. Small stars may appear larger and brighter than others because they 
are closer.
If you look carefully you will notice that the stars are not alike in color. 
Some look bluish, others are yellow.
You may also see some that are green or red. Astronomers use instruments to 
measure the temperature of stars. They have discovered that red stars are 
much cooler than white or bluish ones. A yellow star, like our sun, has a 
medium temperature compared with other stars.
Stars seem to twinkle because you are looking at them through atmosphere 
which is constantly moving.
There are stars in all directions from earth. During the day, the strong 
sunlight brightens the sky and prevents us from seeing the much dimmer 
stars. However, balloonists and high-flying jet pilots see the stars in the 
daytime. As they gain altitude there is less atmosphere to reflect the 
sunlight and the sky appears black.
The stars seem to remain in the same place in relation to each other. 
Actually, all stars are moving in different directions at fantastic speeds. 
They have been doing this for millions of years. They appear to be fixed in 
one position because they are so far away that their changes are not noticed 
for many hundreds of years.
If you use your imagination certain stars will seem to form the outlines of 
pictures. A pattern made by a group of stars is called a "constellation". 
Ancient people gave these constellations interesting Latin names and made up 
stories about them, which have persisted to this very day.
Very few constellations look like their names. With a little practice 
however, you can learn to pick them out in the sky. You can also name the 
most prominent stars in the constellations.
Some constellations are shown on these pages. (sorry you'll have to buy the 
book or go to the library to see the diagrams and pictures!) The library has 
many books which are devoted entirely to stars. Perhaps a friend who knows 
the stars will start you off on this hobby some night.
Most of the stars seem to move toward the west every night. They do this 
without changing their positions in relation to each other. This gigantic 
optical illusion occurs because the earth itself is rotating from west to 
There is one star that does not seem to move in the sky. It is the North 
Star, also called the Pole Star or Polaris (poh-LAR-s). The axis of the 
turning earth points to it in space. It is visible in the northern 
hemisphere all through the night.
To understand this better, try to imagine yourself riding on a carousel at a 
carnival. As you look away from the merry-go-round the spectators, booths, 
and scenery move past you in an opposite direction to your motion. Some 
parts of the scenery are completely lost from view while you are turning to 
the other side. Now look up and you will see the ceiling, or other things 
above you all the time you go around. The place where the center shaft of 
the merry-go-round pierces the ceiling does not seem to make a circle at 
The North Star happens to be almost in the spot where the axis of the earth 
would pierce the sky. Because it remains in one spot and is not affected by 
the rotation of the earth, it is used by navigators for telling direction.
The stars close to it do not set on the western horizon. On clear nights 
they can be seen all the time. They are called "circumpolar" stars. They 
seem to make a complete circle of 360 degrees in 24 hours. There they move 
360/24 = 15 degrees in one hour. Perhaps you can devise a way of telling 
time by watching the stars.
The North Star is not the brightest star in the sky, as many inexperienced 
people think. It can be seen clearly once you know how to find it and 
recognize it.
To find it for the first time, use a compass and face north. Point a finger 
halfway between the horizon and overhead. You will be pointing toward the 
North Star.
The other method, which is widely used, is to look for the Big Dipper in the 
northern sky. This is easily found. Make a line between the two end stars of 
the bowl of the Dipper. These two stars are called the Pointers. Continue 
this line for about five times the distance between the Pointers. It will 
bring you to the North Star. The North Star is also at the end of the Little 
The stars are all around our earth in every direction. Of course, we can 
only see them when it is dark. During an eclipse of the sun the stars are 
visible in the daytime. Because we revolve around the sun once a year, the 
night sky in the summer is not the same as the night sky in the winter. That 
is why the summer constellations that we see are not the same as the winter 
constellations. Of course, those very close to the North Star can be seen 
all year.
Some bright objects in the sky look like stars but they are planets. Like 
the moon, they reflect light from the sun. We can often see Venus, Jupiter, 
Mars and Saturn with the naked eye - if we know just where to look for them. 
Sometimes a planet is so bright that it becomes visible before the stars 
come out. It is then called an evening star.
Planets are called "wanderers." Because each moves in its orbit around the 
sun, they appear to move among the constellations. Of course they are much 
nearer than the constellations. The movement of planets with respect to the 
constellations is hardly noticeable from one night to another.
Venus is the brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon. If you 
know it is in the sky you will easily find it.
Mars is also easy to recognize because of its reddish color. Jupiter looks 
bright like Venus and is often mistaken for it. However, Venus always sets 
soon after the sun. Jupiter stays out later than Venus.
Do not try to see the rings on Saturn, even with binoculars. You must use a 
telescope to see them. Even a small one will do.
You can find out which planets can be seen at certain times by referring to 
The Science News Letter (the last issue of the month). Natural History, a 
magazine published by the Museum of Natural History in New York City, also 
contains this information. Certain newspapers and magazine carry monthly 
star maps and planet guides. Almanacs also have charts. Your librarian 
certainly knows how to put her/his finger on this information.
During one of your evening walks you may see a fiery streak across the sky. 
It may be a "shooting star". It is not really a star, but a chunk of 
material called a meteor from somewhere out in space. It is attracted by the 
earth's gravity. As it falls at a very high speed through our atmosphere it 
gets heated to about 4000 degrees Fahrenheit by the friction against the 
air. Sometimes it does not get completely burned up and a piece may fall to 
the ground. It is then referred to as a "meteorite".
Some meteors travel in groups and are more numerous on certain nights of the 

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