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Seeing Stars by W. B. White

Seeing Stars

by W. B. White

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As we gaze into the night, and into the dawning of the great age of amateurism created by the Web, we need "tools" for accessing the vast fields of specialized knowledge. For star-gazing, for developing an understanding of astronomy from the POV of an amateur, this little book is a great tool.
It begins with the North Star, then follows a circle of the connected constellations. (Whoever first looked into the curtain and saw that certain clusters moved together, who saw these "animals"--the Bears, the Dragon, the Winged Horse, the Two Fish -- should be sainted.)
Once you figure out that you really need a flashlight WITH you-- not just to read this little book, but to shine through the pin-pricks on your star-chart--getting familiar with the Stars is an introduction to Time, Space, and Story. But for years I missed this intimacy - just staring at the distant pricks made me feel lonely. I could never name anything. Until you know the "story", you only feel the isolation. You need to sit there with a flashlight, and maybe a bedroll to lie on. You need to get Constellations under your Belt, and learn the Story which interconnects all of us horizontally and vertically....

NORTH STAR. Polaris. The bright tail of the Little Dipper aka Ursa Minor, and the twin stars edging the front of the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, point directly to it.

BIG DIPPER. 7 bright stars. They spend 1/2 the year above Polaris, and 1/2 the year below it -- chasing the Little Bear around their "den". Note that the crook in the handle is Mizar, a double star.

DRACO. The Dragon begins, tail point first just off-center between the Dippers -- the vector pointing to Polaris. Trace an S-curve (through Thuban, the pole star of 5000 years ago), up to its head of 4 tight stars pointing to a single tongue-star.

CASSIOPEIA and CEPHEUS. Cassiopeia has one of the famous variable stars. Outward between 1&4 near Cepheus is one of the rare garnet-colored stars. Cassiopeia was the beautiful queen of Ethiopia, Cepheus her husband, and Andromeda her daughter. To punish the mother for being vain, the Sea Nymphs asked the Gods to punish Cassiopeia by chaining Andromeda (!) to to a rock and left as a sacrifice to Cetus, the Sea Monster. Perseus rescues Andromeda. Curiously the story treats the rotation of Cassiopeia and Cepheus around Polaris as the punishment of the queen to be watched closely by her jealous husband (!). Cepheus is very dim and obscure, notable for a pulsating variable star.

PERSEUS and ANDROMEDA. Observe the hazy light of the double star cluster between Perseus and Cassiopeia. You can also see the Great Nebula in Andromeda with the naked eye. Algol is an eclipsing variable star (brightens and dims every three days), and Gamma is a beautiful orange and emerald double star. Look to Perseus for the field most likely to have meteoric showers (mid-August).

STORIES. So many to tell, and plenty of Time to tell them...The Scorpion bit Orion on the heel causing him to die, so Scorpio has set when Orion rises in autumn, and when it rises in east in early summer, Orion has gone beyond the western horizon.

Includes an Index and Chart of Rising Times for the primary Stars, with wonderful little chapters on the Sun, the Moon, the Planets, and the illuminated cloud that is the Milky Way.
  keylawk | Jan 13, 2008 |
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