Summer stargazing

By Liann Bobechko »Liann Bobechko

July 6th, 2010


Recently I was up at a family cottage and we did a bit of star gazing. My 14-year old nephew, Gabriel, gave me a tour of the night sky with his new telescope. For the first time I saw the rings of Saturn. It’s hard to wrap your head around how very far away it is, though it’s close, by galactic standards. It was pretty amazing.

If you and your family are into night sky viewing, here are a couple of tools that you might be interested in:

  • Gabriel had a neat device for learning about the night sky: The SkyScout Personal Planetarium is a device that looks like a video camera and you hold it up to the stars and look through it. When you spot an object you want to identify, just press a button and it will tell you what you’re seeing. Or, you can choose from a bunch of lists of objects that are visible in the sky (such as planets and stars) and then arrows around the view finder direct you towards it until you have it in sight.
  • And for you iPhone and iPad enthusiasts, Starmap Pro is a starmap app that’s been getting good reviews. Check it out.

Did your family do any star gazing on the long weekend? Did you spot any shooting stars (aside from fireworks, that is!) Post your stories; I’ll send the Klutz Guide to Backyard Stars to the first 10 people to comment on this blog.

[Update: if you’re researching buying a telescope, check out these introductory pages from SkyNews and Sky & Telescope.]


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Aug. 25, 2010

12:20 am

I had been meaning to look into buying a telescope for a while now, your post pushed me over the edge. I found a really great online store based in Alberta, I'd be happy to share the link if you like. I bought an Orion Starblast 6" reflector and an extra 5mm eyepiece. We have seen so much with it already! Tonight we saw Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus and had some great closeups of the moon and Capella. As for a Blackberry app, Starry Nights is working on BBerry version, not sure when it will be out. Thanks again for the Klutz Guide to Backyard Stars, we have really been enjoying it!


Aug. 11, 2010

4:30 pm

Hi Rob, How crazy that you saw a Russian supply rocket trying to dock with the ISS! I wouldn't have even thought to look it up... As for your question about star maps for Blackberry, I don't know of any. Anyone else? If I hear of any, I'll be sure to post something here to let you know.

Aug. 10, 2010

4:45 pm

Great links, thanks! I also found although they talk less about brands and more about different types. Do you know of any star maps for Blackberry? I use Stellarium on the PC but I never bring the laptop to the lake. Since you asked for stories, here's mine. A few weeks ago, we were watching the sky and saw a fairly bright satellite coming from the west. I thought it must be the ISS since I had seen it before and this seemed about the right brightness and speed. There was a smaller satellite trailing it and about the same time it passed directly overhead, the smaller one started moving closer. I looked it up on Monday after we got back and it turns out it was a Russian supply rocket that was reattempting to dock. The docking was successful 17 minutes after I saw it, over the border between China and Russia.


Aug. 10, 2010

4:11 pm

Hi Rob, I hope the tips and resources help you get out of your stargazing rut! As for a good entry-level telescope, I don't have a lot of personal experience with them, but here are some on line articles that offer advice. From SkyNews: From Sky & Telescope: Let me know if these help, and what you decide to get!

Aug. 10, 2010

12:52 pm

Hey thanks for the tips! We never seem to have the resources to find new constellations when we're out at the lake. We always go over the ones we know already. Any tips on an entry-level telescope?


Jul. 29, 2010

10:50 pm

JK, what a beautiful moment! I remember going out at March Break as a kid and seeing the Northern Lights for the first time. There's a special quality to a cold, clear winter night. Summer stargazing is lazy and warm, and leaves time for the awe-inspiring enormity of the universe to really sink in -- and without the snowsuit!


Jul. 13, 2010

4:39 pm

What a great idea! Stargazing always reminds me of my small place in the universe -- a great way to start philosophizing -- unless you take your niece and nephews out on a crisp New Year's Eve...then the focus is more on snowballs, but I got the three of them to have a tiny, sliver of a silent moment as we sat bunched together in the snow...our jackets stopped crinkling for a second and I tried to get the trio to look up at the moon, before "can we go now?" Perseids is a much better idea. I wish the planetarium were still open...maybe we should advocate for that to re-open -- I still have strong memories from that presentation in Toronto when I was young.


Jul. 12, 2010

10:50 am

No great stories yet (this year) for stargazing, but my favourite time is always the Perseids meteor shower (this year it will be the night of August 12th). My favourite star gazing memory was a night spent in the canoe with a good friend, just floating in the middle of a small lake talking about everything, and nothing. One shooting star was so big and lit up the horizon when it came down almost like a plane crashing ( we hypothesized for a second, a UFO). It's always a great show provided we get a clear night!


Jul. 8, 2010

11:01 am

Too funny! Your son might prefer your "Gretzkytar" constellation over the boring old "Big Dipper." If you do try out the iPad app, I'd love to know what you think.

Steven Curtis

Jul. 8, 2010

10:55 am

Wow - this is an awesome blog. Thanks so much for sharing Liann. I just got an iPad and I can wait to try the app you've suggested. My little guy loves looking at the stars, and I've been making up the stories until now... I can actually teach him the real names. You have saved him from being embarassed when he's older telling his friend that is the "Super stellar Gretskytar" or the "Toy Story Star". He owes you a big thanks too. Looking forward to reading more.


Jul. 8, 2010

10:50 am

Thanks for the story, Sophie! It sounds like you did have it all, right then - floating out on the water with your family, fireworks in your near future, and a shooting star to top it all off! Thanks for the link to the Torrence Barrens Dark Sky Preseve, Drew. I haven't been yet, but would like to. I know what you mean, though; I worry too about the night skies getting brighter (and the stars seeming dimmer). But I think there's a growing awareness about the need to limit lights in order to protect not only stargazing but bird migration. Yuki Hayashi wrote a story in our April 2008 issue ("A Little Less Dark") where she described features of lights that decrease light pollution but still allow one to get around safely at the cottage after dark. I see less floodlights shining down to the shoreline, and, I think people are making sure not to leave the lights on all night. Thanks for the comments!

Drew Gulyas

Jul. 7, 2010

10:32 pm

Speaking of star gazing, there isn't much in this world that I enjoy more than staying up late to look up. In my short 33 years of star gazing, I've noticed that our night sky is getting darker and darker and I'm worried that my daughters won't have the same opportunities to be staggered by the cosmos as I had when I was a kid at the cottage. I remember seeing the northern lights as a child - but don't remember the last time I saw them in Muskoka. I am particularly impressed by and thankful for the Torrence Barrens Dark Sky Preserve ( I don't want my kids to be cut off from the mystery of the night sky.


Jul. 7, 2010

5:46 pm

I was at a friend's cottage for the long weekend and we were out on their boat waiting for the Canada Day fireworks to begin. It was a late night on the lake with a clear sky filled with brightly shining stars. I sat on the stern of the boat, looking up into space. I decided to do some star-gazing, because the "boy's" were still setting up for the big show. The first thing I saw was the Northern Star. You can see it almost anywhere within the boundaries of the nothern hemisphere. I searched for the Big Dipper and Little Dipper for awhile, found them and moved on to the next constalation I thought of. A few minutes later, the boys gave us the "O.K" sign, that they were ready to start. As I slowly averted my eyes off the shining stars, I saw something fly past me in my hindsight. My instincts told me it was a shooting star, and my younger brother confirmed my guess by saying "Look Mommy! A shooting star!" At that instant I knew what to wish for, even though I probably had it all right then. I made my wish, that was "to re-live this fantastic moment again next year." Happy Canada Day!!!

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