The Starry, Starry Night

Welcome to backyard Astronomy, and the opportunity to learn more about what is up there. I am hopeful that you have enrolled in this course first to gain an appreciation of the night sky, and before we look into how things work, it is important to learn where things are and how they move.

This unit is divided up into several lessons:

If you have not already done so, please go back and take the Introductory Tour of the Universe to get a sense of what is out there. After you have taken the tour, then proceed to the Units of Measurement. This page will give you a better understanding of the types of distances and units of measurement you will use to describe the Universe.

Celestial Objects

Constellations and First Constellation Observation

Celestial Sphere

By the time you have concluded this unit, you should be able to recognize major constellations and stars in the northern sky, know how to use a simple celestial coordinate system to write down locations of celestial objects, and be able to explain how things move in the sky as they do.

You are expected to take two days to work through this section of the course and follow the suggested sequence listed above. Click on the Celestial Objects icon and begin your study. At the end of each document is a link to the next. Please follow the three documents to their conclusion. When you have completed this reading, then you are ready for your first outdoor observation. Click on Constellation Observation to discover what your assignment is for your first night of Astronomy observing and what you are expected to turn in to the teacher.

Since this course is purposing to develop in you an appreciation for the night sky, I am asking you to describe some of the discoveries which you might make during the night observations as well as your joys and frustrations you may experience. These comments are as important as the actual observing so please take the time to write them down on the assignment sheet.

Important Observing Tips To Be Used Throughout The Course

***I cannot stress this enough. In Minnesota, where this course is centered, the night weather is incredibly fickle. You will NEVER be in a position when you can plan for an evening of observing according to YOUR schedule. You have to look outside when it is clear and take advantage of any opportunity you can when it appears. Even looking at the morning paper cannot guarantee a clear night for you. You can go to the local Nexrad site and look at the current satellite imagery to see if the nights holds the possibility of being clear.

If the sky is clear at sunset, go out and do some observing. If the sky was cloudy during the day but breaks up in late afternoon, then the chances of a clear night are pretty good. If you see wispy clouds toward the western horizon at sunset, those typically will dissipate and give you a clear night. The best time to do observing on an annual basis is during winter because the sky is cold from earth's surface to the upper altitudes. In the summer, the rising heat from the ground causes the sky to shimmer and often blurs your view.

If you have any binoculars, they will help you see things which are more dim, but will reduce your field of view and now allow you to see any constellations in their entirety except for the Pleiades. Still, they will help you see things within a constellation. If you do not have a steady hand, lie down on your back and prop your elbows on your chest for greater stability ... and stop breathing for the next hour or so.***

You are asked to go first to Units of Measurements, and then on to Celestial Objects of the Universe. I know that I will not be there to hear you exclaim, "Ooooh," or "Aaaah," but the tour is a great time to make those noises. If you are not ready to make the jump into Hyperspace because your engines are not charged, take a break and stay here in the Introduction to the Starry Sky. You can always return to the Syllabus or to the Home page.


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