While summer storms have dampened the ability to stargaze around Lawrence, late summer and fall are great times for new and veteran stargazers to examine and wonder about the night sky.
“All you need is a dark area, away from bright lights, to enjoy the night sky,” says Rick Heschmeyer, Lawrence resident and member of the Astronomy Associates of Lawrence.
For beginners, though, the night sky can seem like an indiscernible map of bright lights.
Heschmeyer also says beginners need to learn to identify the bright stars in the sky and learn the constellations and their names. When they get a good feel for location, they can have a better idea of where to find harder-to-find objects.
“Without any optical aid you can view the motion of the planets, phases of the moon, lunar eclipses, meteor showers, bright comets and man-made objects, like the International Space Station, the space shuttle and the Hubble Space Telescope. With binoculars the possibilities increase dramatically,” Heschmeyer says.
Seeing these objects takes practice, though. Heschmeyer says a human’s eyes take 10-15 minutes to adapt to the dark, and people need to keep trying if smaller objects are eluding their eyesight.
Location also plays an important role in the ability to see objects at night. Bill Winkler, Lawrence resident and member of the astronomy club, says lights from the city hides dimmer stars, but they can be seen by going south or southwest of Lawrence in Douglas County around Clinton Lake or Lone Star.
Heschmeyer says he has always been awed by space and believes people all across the community can share the wonder of the night sky.
“People are awed by not only the majesty of the universe, but by the simple fact that they can see it with their own eyes, instead of just through pictures or books,” he says.
Above all though, Heschmeyer says star gazing is just a release from the daily grind.
“This is not a competition,” he says. “Star gazing can be a very relaxing and a very fun hobby.”
David Kolb, a computer programmer in Lawrence and part-time astronomy professor at Kansas City Kansas Community College, says technology has had a large impact on the ability to locate and view objects in the sky.
“It’s taken some of the challenge out of it, but it really has certainly made it easier for beginners to see some of the objects,” Kolb says.
While beginners may have access to more advanced telescopes or binoculars, Kolb says they need to keep expectations at a realistic level. Many people of the younger generation grew up looking at stunning and almost unbelievable pictures of nebulas and solar systems from the Hubble Telescope and expect to see similar objects in the sky.
“I always tell the beginners to start with something easy where the expectations aren’t so high like the moon or the planets,” he says.
Also, Kolb and Heschmeyer suggest people read about astronomy at the library or on the Internet before attempting to star gaze. He also suggests purchasing a star atlas or planisphere online or at a book store to help beginners learn their way around the sky. Magazines like Astronomy magazine, which is geared toward beginners, and Sky and Telescope magazine, as well as Internet programs like Stellarium and Google Sky, are also helpful.
For those interested in star gazing, the Lawrence Public Library will be host to an event from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.. Tuesday in which veteran astronomy educator Paul Verhage will present several tips and ideas for beginners.