Exploring Your Own Backyard Part II

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

UPDATE: This reminds me of the time I checked in a day late for 1 AM flight from LA to Minneapolis. Apparently, this happened last night.

Astronomy enthusiasts in North and South America will stay up light tonight to see the occultation of the bright red star Antares. (Non-astronomers may wonder what this means: the moon will pass in front of the star, so it's an eclipse of a star, more or less.) Antares is a bright red supergiant in the middle of the constellation Scorpio, and home to Fizzbinn. Here's a map of places where the event is visible and the website lists exact times.

boingboing anteres occulatioh.jpg
Map from Pierpaolo Ricci's website.

I became interested in astronomy when I was eleven years old and read Sir Patrick Moore's book called The Sky at Night. The Sky at Night was a book that really made a difference to me. It takes a while, but with it, you can become familiar with nearly every bright object in the night sky.

In the first Exploring Your Own Backyard post, a few commenters thought it was incongruous to use a digital microscope to get closer to nature. My point is to get outside and explore nature firsthand, and if a modern digital device enhances the experience, so much the better.

To this point, I've been experimenting lately with a device called the SkyScout Personal Planetarium. It's about the size of smallish video recorder. If you point it at any star, planet, major deep sky object, etc, the readout on the side tells you what it is you're looking at. If it's a rather important object, it plays an audio excerpt with additional information. Conversely, you can select the name of a star or other object from a list and arrows on the display will guide you to it.

(Looks rainy tonight in here in Minneapolis - rats.)



  1. The SkyScout thing is a nifty gadget, but I’d also recommend checking out your local astronomy club(s). Just about every area has one, or a few, and most all of them have a lot of members who are more than happy to share the views through their telescopes with the interested public. Some even have their own observatories, like the one I belong to here in Naperville, IL, who hold regular star parties open to the public. Its very convenient being able to look through other experienced amateur’s expensive equipment instead of buying your own.

  2. I remember seeing an occultation of Saturn by the moon (Earth’s moon, that is).

    It was neat, because it looked like a little flying saucer was crashing into the moon.

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