Monday, January 2, 2012

Seeing Despite the Light

I live in a midsize Northern city with cloudy weather. Even on a clear night, light pollution washes out much of the sky’s glory. Technology is the answer.

The first time I ever identified the Hyades Cluster was through a pair of binoculars, standing in a well-shadowed alley beside office towers and night clubs. Beyond the exurbs, the Hyades are a normal sight for naked eyes, but here in town you need binoculars even for such basic destinations.

The core of the Hyades Cluster
Smartphone apps have also become inescapable. Wearing pajamas at home with all the blinds drawn, I can open the Star Walk app and find touchscreen icons marking the brightest lights of the Hyades or the center of the Milky Way, or any other celestial landmark you please. While it’s not the same as gazing into a starry night and feeling as if you could fall off the Earth into infinity, at least it helps you comprehend your place in space.

But for cosmic uplift and amazement, wherever you and your eyes may find yourselves, nothing beats the Internet. It brings you photos from the Hubble Space Telescope and daily treasures from sites like Astronomy Picture of the Day and the European Southern Observatory. Even better, it brings you the latest scientific articles on all things astronomical via, where you can find publications on Mars, the moons of Saturn, the nearest and farthest star-forming clouds, and so much more.

For my taste, the most fascinating literature is aggregated by the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia, which presents current data on planets orbiting other stars in the Milky Way, including a long-running census of exoplanet discoveries.

Inspired by the richness of so many online repositories, this is my fan page for other worlds. Here I’ll comment intermittently on the doings and findings of astronomy, from my perspective in the virtual back alleys of twenty-first century science.