The autumn skies are one of the starry delights of the year, and the last time you might spend night time outdoors.
Let’s face it, the days are numbered that you’ll be outside after dark as cold weather and busy holidays keep most of us inside when the day turns to night.
And we don’t want to think about those January and February cold nights, when there are dark skies at 6 pm and we don’t have the gumption to brave the usually harsh weather.
So, make some time every week for half an hour or so of stargazing by just sitting outdoors in comfortable clothes on a comfy recliner and allowing your eyes to adapt to the night.
I guarantee it won’t be wasted time. I think you might be recharged a little bit, and for sure you’ll witness with eyes and ears a new perspective on your neighborhood.
Most of us will be battling the security lights of the neighbors, so try and block yourself from annoying stray light. Start relaxing outside in the deep twilight. You will see and hear all kinds of nature stirring about as the stars come out to play with you.
Your eyes take about 15 minutes away from white light to allow the pupils to open wider and allow a dramatically better night vision. The human eye isn’t sensitive to red light, and flashlights with a red bulb or cellophane are what’s needed to look at a star map or equipment. As your eyes open wide like an owl, use your ears to hear the night world around us coming alive.
You’ll hear crickets and other insects in their nocturnal cacophony, then a few bats will dart by, snagging flying insects that buzzed by you earlier. You realize car tires make a sound of their own on the streets, and somewhere overhead a propeller plane is heading to a twilight landing. A dog barks, quarreling cats howl and in the distance a train’s whistle moans.
Suddenly, it’s dark. Even if the Moon is high and the lunar light drowns out the stars, there will always be a few dozen of the brightest to shine through. And maybe a planet or two.
Getting familiar with the night sky is like meeting neighbors as you drive down a road that repeats every 12 months. Seeing the Great Square of Pegasus in the northeast this Autumn time of the year is like seeing an old friend you haven’t talked to since February when the celestial horse was setting in the west.
A star chart is essential and fun to use when beginning to get curious about which star is which and the starry outlines of the constellations. A “planisphere” is a star wheel that can be moved to show you the star patterns at any date and time, and they can be found at most book stores. Libraries will have several books on constellations, and free sky charts are on the Internet, like StarMaps.com.
Hey! That 1965 edition of the New Encyclopedia Britannica you inherited from your parents—or snagged cheaply at a yard sale—will no doubt have a star chart for the North and South Hemispheres of Earth. Even some world atlases will have star charts. It doesn’t matter how old your star chart is, the constellations haven’t changed in millions of years, only the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets change.
To know the night sky is truly a rewarding experience that never gets old. There is so much to learn…and so little time. You can’t stargaze the faint nebulae and galaxies when the Moon is bright for a week or so around full phase, and then you have plenty of cloudy nights. Also, everyone has a personal life that has lots of evening commitments. So, you might be lucky to seriously stargaze just five or six times a month.
Before you know it, the night sky has changed its mythological characters, the constellations you were learning are setting, and new ones are rising in the east with stories told thousands of years ago. After a season or two of steady stargazing, you’ll come to learn the rhythm of our Earth’s journey around our favorite star, the Sun. The rewards will be something you only measure inside your mind.
Take advantage of these mild Autumn nights that have so many starry friends awaiting your acquaintance. Look up and imagine each starry point as a world of its own, probably with several planets and maybe a companion star orbiting it. Remember, you are looking at the same stars that all humans have gazed upon. And no one owns the original, the stars are there for everyone to see and do with what they want.
Maybe you’ll find it so enjoyable that you’ll continue stargazing though the Winter and get in rhythm with the seasonal stars. You won’t be disappointed—the Spring stars are just around the celestial corner.