Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

June 8, 2014

Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one

At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!



The observable universe is about 90 billion light years across. How far we can see is limited by the age of the universe. Beyond this cosmic horizon, the universe could go on forever.



After a coverage of the variety of objects seen from Earth, “Stars and Planets” explains how sky positions are specified and how these positions are affected by our Earth’s two main motions, rotation every day and revolution every year. “Why we have seasons?” is well explained by diagrams.



If you decide to make sky watching one of your hobbies, there are some steps to take: 1. Sky Charts. “Stars and Planets” has monthly star charts for both northern hemisphere and southern hemispheres. (People that live in Australia or South America, see our star groups upside down!) 2. Where are the planets? The planets are wanderers, creeping along the zodiac as they orbit the sun. “Stars and Planets” shows the positions of the seven planets near the start of each year with little colored dots with the year within.(2014 is shown by 14, to save space.) 3. Then how to find the sky objects on the
sky charts? You can use your hands and arms as degree “rulers.” (Stretch either arm fully and point your index finger upward; the width across that finger is about 1 degree. If you stretch apart your fingers while keeping the arm fully extended, the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger is 20 degrees.) 4. Then there is a nice treatment of observing devices — binoculars and telescopes. A brief look at astrophotography follows, including the use of smart phones to capture images.



The next section covers the solar system, the sun, planets and smaller bodies (which can collide with us!) Unusual sky phenomena such as haloes, sun dogs and aurorae are illustrated.



5. How are the stars organized? A two page-spread on our galaxy is very helpful, showing the view if we could travel vast distances and look back. Next are monthly star charts that can be used at a number of latitudes (such as Cumberland 40 N, Hawaii 20 N, Rio de Janeiro 20 S). For a more detailed look, there is a section on all 88 of the constellations that cover the entire sky. For the original 48 constellations, the myths and key telescopic sights are recounted.



For the 40 constellations recognized officially in 1925,“Stars and Planets” states the names and their reasons for naming the constellations after navigation instruments, parts of ships, and animals.

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Bob Doyle - Astronomy
  • FSU Planetarium has new outreach program

    Several years ago, the FSU planetarium acquired an iPad. Months later, we purchased an iPad projector with necessary cables. I purchased a number of astronomical apps this year for the iPad. So I’m interested in visiting schools in this county to teach the stars and planets to classes. The astronomical apps allow you to survey the current evening night sky and show the planets, bright stars and star groups. One of the apps shows the planets close up with wonderful surface detail (as if you were cruising by in a spaceship). The apps I’ll be using can be purchased from the iTunes app store for a few dollars.

    July 27, 2014

  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014

  • A long and winding road faces our food

    Last week’s column dealt with organs you can do without, our DNA (molecular blueprint for our bodies) and hair. My reference is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin,” a Miles Kelly Book, written by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon and published in 2010. This column will consider finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, mucus and your food’s long and torturous journey. Most cities and mid sized towns have nail shops where you can have your finger nails and toe nails adorned. Nail painting can be traced back 5,000 years.

    July 6, 2014

  • Here’s a look at what goes on inside you

    In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.

    June 28, 2014

  • Moon-watching easy when you know how

    Long before the first writing (scratches on clay tablets) appeared, our early ancestors noticed that the moon went through a regular cycle of shapes in about 30 days.

    June 21, 2014

  • Here’s how you can tell the stars, planets

    How can one tell one star from another at night? It’s a matter of knowing the sky areas (constellations).

    June 15, 2014

  • Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one

    At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!

    June 8, 2014

  • Think a little more and be less frazzled

    Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.

    May 25, 2014

  • Technology helps with learning, but take care

    Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body.

    May 18, 2014

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