Why should anyone look up in the night sky and try to find anything interesting to see? Why? Because even in urban skies, you can make an immediate connection to the universe around us. How can this be? Why is this important? Let’s take a look at a few things astronomical.
Here is an image of the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. This star is about twice the size as our Sun, and is one of the closest stars to the Earth. The nearly invisible partner Sirius B is a star that went Red Giant 120 million years ago and is now a White Dwarf.
The Pleiades are a beautiful cluster of stars that are young, less than 100 million years old. The cluster is 440 light years away. How do you connect with distances so vast, worlds so distant?
You can credit this man for part of the answer. John Dobson is a San Francisco local whose personal mission is to help every person to see the universe as it actually is, and to better understand it.
Dobson co-founded San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers and fueled the global sidewalk astronomy movement. When people ask how do you join the Sidewalk Astronomers, they say “it isn't really about joining anything - it's about embracing a philosophy and acting on it.”
The Sidewalk Astronomers stop people on sidewalks and let them see the craters of the Moon, the rings of Saturn, or the spots on the Sun. For just a moment, they have a personal connection with the universe around them, and sometimes life seems a little better after that. They call it &quot;urban guerilla astronomy.&quot;
Dobson also created a telescope design that now bears his name. The Dobsonian telescope is a favorite for telescope-building amateur astronomers. And with this design you can make huge, low-cost telescopes that can gather light from objects 10,000 times fainter that you can see with your eye.
Amateur astronomers love to share their passion for the subject through their blogs, sidewalk astronomy and star parties. I bring astronomy to the listeners of KFOG, KALW and venues such as the California Academy of Sciences at their Nightlife events.
The man in the photo on the right is Dean Gustafson. You can find him and others nearly every Thursday night on the Living Roof at the California Academy of Sciences standing by telescopes showing off the night sky.
For the last many months one of the most interesting telescopic targets has been Jupiter. This image is from the NASA database, representative of what you would see if you were to fly by Jupiter.
But this view is what you would see through an amateur astronomer’s telescope. Stop for a moment and reflect on this image. When you step up to a telescope, you are seeing the real thing. Photons that traveled 450 million miles across space to reach the cloud tops of Jupiter, that are then reflected back toward Earth.
These photons then penetrate the atmosphere, enter a telescope, and are focused into a pinpoint of light, a tiny stream that enters your eye and connects you with the universe. Photons that an hour before were leaving Jupiter, and an hour before that were being produced in the Sun.
The very same ones. Think about it. No photograph can replace that moment. No TV special. No science fiction movie. This is not Avatar or The Matrix. This is real, as real as all of us sitting in this room, and it is out there in the sky right now waiting to be seen.
Here is the Orion Nebula. If you have an advanced telescope, a powerful imaging adaptor, and high definition software you can create a picture like this. Interesting, yes, but a photograph, not what your eye sees directly.
So try this at home, please. Get out your binoculars. When you point an ordinary pair of binoculars at the constellation Orion you will see the glow of the Orion Nebula. The photons you see left there 1200 years ago. It doesn’t look like the previous photograph, but it is a genuine connection between you and the cosmos.
You can go to a star party and experience this for yourself. Amateur astronomers love to show off the universe. They want for you to step up and take a look, and be dazzled by what you see.
The Night Sky Network is administered locally by Ken Frank. Ken is passionate about getting the word out so that every person in the world can find a local astronomy club, star party or lecture to feed their interest in astronomy
And here tonight I challenge you to go a step further. Find a friend. Find a child. Grab a blanket and a warm jacket and head out to your backyard or a campground.
Learn something new, see something you haven’t seen before, but most importantly share it so that you not only see the universe first-hand, but you also see it from someone else’s point of view. And in the end, why is this important?
It’s my belief that we can find a greater sense of shared purpose and a deep sense of connectedness by looking up at the sky, looking back in time, and learning. By seeing and knowing our place in the universe. I’ll see you at a star party.
Paul Salazar on Urban Astronomy at Ignite Bay Area
We stop people on sidewalks and let them see the craters of the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, or the spots on the Sun. For just a moment, they have a personal connection with the universe around them, and sometimes life seems a little better after that. SFSA website