Unless it is a cloudy day, no matter where you are on the surface of the Earth, you can see a star. This week, we are going to familiarize ourselves with the night sky by using our most familiar and closest star, the Sun. This beautiful, life-giving star is no average ordinary stellar body. Despite what you may have heard from lesser informed astronomy books, the Sun is quite large and very active. As of recently, the Sun has been very active, giving off many Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) that have illuminated the Northern Skies with sinuous, enticing auroras.
At this point you may ask, if this is an astronomy column, why are we discussing the Sun? Our star can be used to teach some basic fundamentals of searching the skies and if you have the right equipment, you can have some great sun-gazing opportunities. For astronomers, the sky is divided up into constellations. While these are useful, for a new astronomer, knowing all the constellations can be daunting. So we will use a more familiar system of the cardinal directions and degrees up from the horizon.
So why the Sun? Well, to get your bearings at noon in the fall, the sun should be about 50 degrees up in the sky to the southeast. To gauge this, the general rule is that if you hold your fist at arms length. The distance to the top of your hand, if the base of your hand is at the horizon, is about 10 degrees. Try doing this 9 times to get to the zenith of the sky.
Finally, on to fun events you can do with the sun. As it is a time of high activity, if you observe the Sun right at dawn or dusk, you can see large sunspots, if they exist, and given our timing, they will. Also for a demonstration, I will be on Kafadar Commons with my telescope between 10:30 and 11:30 in the morning this upcoming Wednesday the 15 (as long as it is sunny). Stop by and take a safe look at your nearest star. As for take-home work, if you are interested in some stargazing head on over to www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/Yoursky. If you input your closest city (Denver) you can get an idea of what is currently in the skies above you.
Peace and May the Stars Shine Brightly in Your Sky.