Sunday, November 15, 2009
19. Were the stars out last night?
What we really want to know is, "Can you see the stars where you live?" and "Do you ever wander outside at night to enjoy the night sky?" Of course, the stars are always "out"...whether we see them or not just depends on if we care to notice. Otherwise, this is a simple "yes" or "no" question about the weather.
Here in Phoenix, we nearly always have clear night skies, I would say probably 364 nights a year on average. But there is huge competition from the city below. In the photo above, taken from a satellite orbiting Earth, you can easily find Phoenix by the largest blob of light just east of southern California. Even so, on our regular night strolls around the neighborhood, we can alway see the major constellations: Orion, Cassiopaea, Ursa Major, Pleides, Virgo and Scorpius are my favorites to look for. But everything in between and the great swirl of the Milky Way is lost to the glare of city lights, most obnoxious of those emanating from nearby ball fields where giant banks of lights beam out to space.
Depending on your outlook, the city lights can be stunning or frightening, or possibly both. This is my view from the top of Thunder bird Mountain, which I hike to the summit of (all 500 feet or so from the valley floor) by headlamp in the winter time two mornings a week.
I kind of like the "art" that happens when you jiggle the camera a little: