Don’t you love dictionaries and encyclopedias? "What are they?" you ask. Those are the books full of great stuff to look up that some of us only used to have around the house.
Don’t you love dictionaries and encyclopedias?
"What are they?" you ask. Those are the books full of great stuff to look up that some of us only used to have around the house. Today, many people are more likely to search a computer than take up a hefty volume of Webster and flip the pages.
If you’re like me, you’d rather look it up in the book. It may take a little longer, but think of the wonderful feeling of getting distracted among its pages.
It’s not unlike “star-hopping” in a telescope toward a particular charted star or galaxy; the star patterns along the way are worth the journey.
Here’s a glossary of just some terms you should know about exploring the night sky. Some items are more normal than others:
Aperture: The width of the telescope’s main (”objective”) mirror or lens.
Astrobiology: Probably the only scientific field in which we don’t even know if the subject matter exists (life on other worlds).
Astronomical Unit: The average distance from the sun to the Earth, or 93 million miles; used as a handy measuring guide around the solar system.
Celestial sphere: The whole shebang. The entire sky appears to us if we were in the middle of the inside of a ball. The North Pole of our planet pints at the “North Celestial Pole,” which happens to lie very close to a +2nd magnitude star we know as Polaris (the North Star). The South Pole aims at the South Celestial Pole but, alas, not near any bright star. Midway on the sphere is the Celestial Equator, which passes right overhead from Earth’s equator.
Finder: A small telescope attached to a larger one, for targeting sky objects.
Light year: The distance light travels in one year, about 5.9 trillion miles. It has nothing to do with time.
Magnitude: The brightness of a star or anything else in the sky is measured by magnitude. The brightest nighttime stars are of +1 magnitude or brighter; the faintest you can normally see with unaided eyes is +6.
Pirate’s patch: Very handy at the telescope, it blocks stray light from your other eye and lets you keep both eyes open to avoid eye strain. Between that and your red flashlight, you can scare the cat (or more likely the neighbor), but you’ll enjoy the sky even more.
Reflector: A telescope with a concave mirror at the lower end.
Refractor: A telescope using a glass convex lens in front.
Skunk: What you want to avoid when walking in the backyard at night with your eyes on the skies.
Sky coordinates: Like latitude and longitude on an Earth map, the sky is charted with lines of declination and right ascension.
TV: What you’re not missing by choosing the stars instead.
Valentine paper: Essential tool for any stargazer, the red clear stuff around Valentine’s candy boxes is great for covering a flashlight to protect your night vision. The chocolates are great, too.
Vulcan: The name of a planet some astronomers really thought existed -- way before "Star Trek" -- orbiting between the sun and Mercury.
Peter Becker writes for the Wayne Independent. Contact him at email@example.com.