27 July 2008

Changing Perspectives

I spent last week at the Stanford Sierra Camp at Fallen Leaf Lake near Lake Tahoe. At nearly 6400 feet elevation with dry clear skies, the view of the night sky was excellent. I hosted two stargazing sessions during the week in which fellow campers took in the view of deep space objects such as the Lagoon Nebula, Swan Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy plus some riveting views of Jupiter's most prominent cloud belts and the four Galilean Moons. All of this was possible using a 5 inch telescope under the right conditions. The view from the boat dock at Sierra Camp faces east, motivating me to get better acquainted with a few constellations I had never fully appreciated such as Andromeda, Pegasus, Delphinus, Aquarius and even Aquila, because many of the stars in these constellations are not visible in the city. The dark skies gave me a chance to see them in their entirety. It's never too late to see something new so if you get out in the dark this summer, take a star chart and make a few discoveries.

Growing up in Los Angeles I saw summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and noticed that even in the bright lights of LA, you can see the Summer Triangle shining above the stage at the Hollywood Bowl. That perspective never has escaped me and whenever I see the Summer Triangle during July or August in the early evening, I can visualize myself looking at the stage at a Hollywood Bowl concert. Last night I was watching Steely Dan at the Berkeley Greek Theater and learned a new view, that of the stars over the Berkeley Greek at night. Above the stage to the left was Scorpio, rising higher as the concert went on. To the right were the stars of Leo (with Mars and Saturn still nearby in the glowing sky after sunset). Just above the stage is Spica (the brightest star in Virgo) and Arcturus (the brightest star in Bootes). Most of the other stars in Virgo and in nearby Libra are too washed out by city light and moisture in the air to be seen above the Greek theater stage, but there were still plenty of bright stars and planets to enjoy. Later in the evening Jupiter, now visible in Sagittarius, rose in the east (above the stage to the left) and dominated the sky. I enjoyed getting to know a new night sky above a popular venue and look forward to the memories of that concert every time I see this particular lineup of stars.

No comments: