Friday, January 15, 2010


I’m not a morning person. While I can wake up without a lot of issue, I hate doing it. Nothing good happens that early. To sum up, the morning is not my friend, though my job often requires being out and about prior to sunrise.

The one enjoyable thing about being out early at this time of year is the sky. Despite the fact that so many of my neighbors have blazing security lights (out in the country, no less; who does that?) I can get a good view of the morning sky. In particular, I love being able to step out my door, look up and left, and see Mars, clear as anything. That amazes me; it’s large and bright enough to almost make out the disk with the naked eye. Even a basic telescope could likely pick up some detail. I can usually pick out another planet or two, depending on the time and weather. I can’t pick out my favorite constellation, Orion, though; he’s an evening rather than morning visitor.

I’ve always loved looking at space and the stars, but I never had the chance to look knowledgeably until I moved to a place where I could barely see them. It’s remarkable how much light pollution you get in this area. Admittedly, there are a couple of sizeable metro areas not so far away, but it’s the people within a quarter mile of me that drive me nuts. I was extremely happy when my mother-in-law’s security light burned out; I knew it was unlikely to ever be replaced. Her next-door neighbor later purchased a small artificial sun. I still can’t fathom why his two-car gravel parking space needed quite that much visibility. It affects my night vision so badly that my view of the sky changes noticeably just but angling so that the light is behind a house.

Now, back home in West Virginia, at least while I was growing up, light pollution was pretty sparse. It was there, but not nearly to the level of where I’m living now. I could at least see the Milky Way. One of my favorite memories of my friend Coralius is of riding in the back of a truck at night (so that the womenfolk could ride in the heated cab, of course), and talking about the stars we were looking up at.

I’ve tried to share this with my kids some, but only in a half-assed way so far. There are lots of star and space books in the house, and all are popular with the kids. We have the Here Comes Science DVD from They Might Be Giants, and we hear the songs from the kids all the time. I think they’ve got a bit of the science bug, which is good. If you don’t have it young, you may not get it. My son received a telescope for Christmas a couple of years back; it was rendered pretty much useless because he broke the stand within hours, and scattered the eyepieces in days. He got a new one this year, and it may fare better. Once the air is a bit less chilly, we’ll take a night to look at the moon. In my experience, that’s about all it takes to get a youngling started. Point it at Saturn or Mars, and it’s even better. Soon, you can explain how we are made of star stuff, and they might really get it. I’ve talked with my son before about how elements are formed in the hearts of stars (again, the TMBG DVD was a big help), but I don’t think he gets quite why that is so freakin’ awesome. I’ve got time, though.

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