22 March 2009

Oddly Proud That I Still Can Find Polaris By Way of the Big Dipper

I'm spending this weekend with Kate & James and their parents in Western MA, as I occasionally, gratefully, get to do. I've currently found a spot on The Most Comfortable Couch Ever that has me nestled into a corner of cushions, and angled so that my feet are still up on the couch. Granted, I had to ask James to get my water bottle for me from the coffee table, but he was already up. (Because the family went to the gym while I sat here, perfectly positioned, with a fuzzy blanket and a laptop to keep me warm.)

Last night, after dinner and baking and family scrabble (in which I slaughtered... hoping that I spend enough time with these folks that I'm not obliged to politely defer and lose), James & Kate's mom called everyone out to the porch, for the cloudless, totally star-filled sky.

The back porch overlooks a big valley, which makes for good enough view in daytime, but means that on a clear, moonless night, the sky is effing AWESOME.

(My ideal positioning on TMCCE right now faces the big windows and that view, and a hawk just flew by at, like eye level. FYI.)

So last night around 10 we're standing on the deck, Kate with a blanket wrapped around her like a sarong, me having grabbed James' coat because it's warmer than mine, oohing and aahing and trying to brave the cold long enough for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, to see the countless fainter stars behind and between the obvious and bright ones.

The night before, and again on the porch, there was one particularly bright star, a little to the west of Orion, that was so bright everyone kept telling me it couldn't be a star, despite my constant "But it's twinkling!"s. Google Earth, awesome as it is, makes too disorienting a sky chart (call me lazy-minded, but I have trouble without a horizon), but after a little internet research (the stars weren't going away anywhere all too quicky), James downloaded a $5 app to his iPhone, and holy crap.

(By this point everyone else had mostly gone to sleep, and I'd put on shoes and wrapped a sarong blanket under James' coat, because I intended to spend some real time out on the deck, like ten or fifteen minutes.)

So the app is called Starwalk, and it's *awesome*. (In case we were wondering if official endorsement by IYA 2009 meant anything, I guess it does.) With Orion smack in front of us, we were able to find our way over to the mysteriously crazy-bright star, and sure enough, it's Sirius. Then we found Saturn. Then Polaris (which I was happy to find I still know how to ID just by following over the end of the big dipper, a trick I learned when I was maybe nine, and have not used since, not having been lost and needing to navigate home by the stars yet, knock on wood, god willing and the floods don't rise) and the Little Dipper (which, yes, we could see all of). Then Gemini, Leo, Casseopia, Perseus, and naming just about every bright star we could see.

It was really awesome.

And also, everyone who ever looked up at these stars and came up with any of the constellations we have now was totally insane. Except for maybe Gemini and Leo. I don't care how many more stars you could see in ancient Greece, that does not look like a bear.

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