Thursday, October 28, 2010

Star gazing

Dave has just started his lifetime's ambition - a part time, distance learning astronomy degree. As you might expect, part of the course work involves observing stars and other objects in the sky, taking measurements of movement, identifying colour and brightness etc etc. Birmingham is hopeless for that sort of thing - it doesn't get dark there so much as orange, thanks to all the street lights - but rural Cumbria is much better, and over the weekend it was clear enough and cold enough to pop out a couple of evenings to gaze at the heavens.

On Saturday we took the car out to a layby part way up a hill to one side of Lake Windermere, where there's a good uninterrupted view of the northern and western half of the sky. When we set off it was clear (and very cold). By the time we'd arrived, only about 20 minutes later, some stubborn high cloud had drifted across and refused to budge. We saw odd frustrating glimpses of the Plough and one or two other bright stars, but nothing else, and we were beginning to turn blue.

On Sunday we didn't even bother with the car, just walked up the road at the back of the house, which eventually comes out onto country lanes in the hills behind the town. Again there was a good view north and west; again it was bitterly cold and this time the sky was clear. It's amazing what you can see when there isn't a constant haze of artificial light; stars were popping out in the most unexpected places. The very bright moon took away some of the clarity but Dave still saw more than enough for his studies. And this time we'd dressed appropriately in umpteen layers and boots and thick woolly scarves, so we didn't even feel the cold.

I have a feeling we'll be doing lots more star gazing in the months to come, as the seaons gradually change and new stars become visible. Thank heavens we spend so much time in an area where we can actually see them...

4 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

Nice posting, Fiona. Coincidentally, we had friends round last night who'd just come back from a house they have way up in the hills and they were enthusing about their night-time walks and the starscapes they'd been enjoying. I've only once experienced that, when we lived in deepest France and regularly sat looking up at the Milky Way. Even if you don't know anything about constellations and so on, it's a magical experience. It also renews your perspectives and reminds you of your significance (or lack of it).

Sharon M.Bidwell said...

I have to say listening to this has made me want to look at the stars again. I think it's something like a phase most of us through a certain young age, and then mostly set aside, which I think is a pity. It's been years since I looked through a telescope, although I never could see the star arrangements as defined by their 'names' -- they just never look anything like it's said they do to me. LOL.

Have been meaning to stop by. Also wanted to say like the look of your blog now. Has that warm glow of the carefully chosen background -- and anything that looks or feels warm is kind of welcome as the weather gets colder. :)

fiona glass said...

Thanks Bill. I have a friend who spends time in Portugal and she says there's hardly any light pollution there, either. We can't see the Milky Way from here, I don't think, but we can see far more than if we were in an urban area.

fiona glass said...

Hi Sharon, thanks for your nice comments.

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who can't 'see' the constellations. I can recognise The Plough and Orion (the easy ones!) but everything else is just a collection of dots. Last night Dave pointed out Cygnus as a cross, but there were so many stars dotted over the area I couldn't see a cross at all...