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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

do you stargaze?


It might seem like an obvious question with only one possible answer — I mean, who doesn’t stargaze? — except I’ve run into far too many people who don’t ever seem to look up. I love looking at the stars. Not in any formal way, but on a clear night I can’t not get lost in staring around for a few minutes. I don’t know anywhere near enough about which star is what, but I can point out Orion (maybe my favorite constellation), and I can pick out Mars and Venus and Jupiter, because how do you not get curious at some point about what that really bright reddish star that doesn’t seem to twinkle is? And yet, I’ve gotten into casual conversations more than once with someone who’s noticed I’ve gotten a little distracted walking down the street who had no idea that that is Mars… and don’t know that Mars is a planet like Earth not all that far away (compared to the actual stars, anyway).


Do you stargaze? Do you have favorite things you like to look at in the night sky?

image from Astronomy Picture of the Day, of supergiant star Gamma Cygni, by Jose Francisco Hernandez (Altamira Observatory)

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

  • Anne-Kari

    I have to admit that I don’t know what I’m looking at in the night sky, but when I am out at night I do look up. Growing up in the middle of Manhattan meant almost NEVER seeing more than a few stars no matter how clear the skies, and living near DC now means pretty much the same. But I’m fascinated with the idea of going somewhere truly devoid of human light pollution to see something like this: http://darksky.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=86#cherrysprings

  • Jess Haskins

    We had decent visibility of some stars in upstate NY, but now that I’m in NYC I miss seeing anything dimmer than the moon. When I went to visit family in Nevada the very first thing I did was go into the backyard to look up at the night sky. The first time I was there, we took my uncle’s telescope to the old desert homestead where there were no lights and spent hours just looking at the stars. I think that was the first time I ever saw the Milky Way.

  • Bluejay

    I live in NYC and it’s frustrating to have light pollution block out so much. But on clear winter nights I can see Orion, and there’s always Mars and Venus and Jupiter. Oh yeah — and the Moon, which is so easily taken for granted but so staggeringly beautiful when you just take the time to notice it. I read somewhere that the Moon is very gradually increasing its distance from the Earth, which makes me wonder what it would have looked like to creatures who gazed up at it millions of years ago, when it was (I assume) noticeably closer.

    When I visit my relatives out in the countryside in Idaho, the night sky is just that much more amazing. I’m not a constellation expert (I can pick out Orion and the Big Dipper on sight, and not much else), but I brought a stargazing guide with me a couple of visits back, and was able to recognize Taurus and the Pleiades and Draco and Cygnus and a few others. And the bright band of the Milky Way itself is just breathtaking.

    The best stargazing I’ve ever done was in Hawai’i, where I learned about the local names for stars and constellations and how important they were to Polynesian navigators. And I got to look through a professional-grade telescope and see Saturn and its moons with my own eyes. (Well, okay, with the aid of a scope, but it was nonetheless the actual Saturn I was seeing, not a representation on page or screen.) I’ll never forget the thrill of that.

  • Bluejay

    Anne-Kari, if you haven’t seen them yet, you might like Thierry Cohen’s “Darkened Cities” photographs.

  • I’m always looking around everywhere whether its day or night, much to the annoyance of people I may be with. I’m just endlessly fascinated by the world around us. I tried to see Saturn last night, as it was supposed to be visible to the naked eye, but couldn’t find it. I wish I could go somewhere without so much light pollution. I have this little app on my phone that’s called The Night Sky that you hold up and it tells you what everything is, including satellites. it’s really fun. I recommend it to anyone.

  • Those pictures are STUNNING.

  • RogerBW

    I always look up; I know a couple of constellations but that’s about it. I do keep a planetarium program on my palmtop so that I can try to identify things. The Moon’s been particularly lovely over the last few days (mostly through my bedroom window as I’m waiting for it to get cool enough for sleep).

  • Reverse stargazing! Cassini looks back at us from 900 million miles away, and we are very very tiny.


  • bronxbee

    i am a stargazer. every night. no matter what. i live in NYC, but really, with a little patience and training, you can see an amazing amount of things even through the light pollution, Orion’s Belt, Sirius, the Dogstar, Big Dipper, little Dipper, Polaris… most planets and the Pleidies… the moon, of course. when i go to visit my parents in tennessee (rural, rural tenn.) and look up, i get dizzy sometimes with the amount of stars and even disorientated by so many. i love looking up.

  • bronxbee

    we were supposed to take pictures of Saturn on that night… i wonder how many people managed to do so. on the same night, we were also photographed from Mercury. check out today’s wonderful Astronomy Picture of the Day:


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