Stargazing on the Sidewalk
MAY 19, 2007 Listen to this Story
- View the Slideshow
If you've been hankering for a glimpse of Saturn lately, or a closer look at the mountains of the moon, Saturday night is it: the first ever International Sidewalk Astronomy Night. It doesn't matter if you don't have your own telescope. Hundreds of amateur astronomers will take their scopes to the streets, and share. Sidewalk stargazers will be stationed in cities all over the country, and all over the world. Weekend America's Krissy Clark went out with two of them in Monrovia, California, to take a peek.
"Stars and Poodles" by Jane Houston Jones
A few months ago a lady called me on the telephone. She told me her name and where she worked and then told me about her beloved poodle which had just died the week before. I kept listening. Why was she telling me this dog tale, I wondered?
"Can you help me find the star named after my dead poodle?" she finally asked. "I have a framed certificate, a book and a chart."
"Stars are not named after poodles" I told her, a little sternly, but with compassion, since her poodle had just died. "You bought a nice piece of paper and a nice frame, but companies selling frames and certificates have no right and no authority to name stars."
"Have you tried calling the company that sold you the frame and asked them to show you your star?" I queried. She replied "No," rather glumly.
I told her how these companies rip off vulnerable people, naming stars after children, beloved aunts and dead poodles. And then nice astronomers had to break the bad news to these people that no star was really named after their favorite animal, vegetable or boyfriend. And this made them feel bad and made them think astronomers are unhelpful and even mean. I told her there were even competing star seller companies that sold the exact same star to different people. So the star "Aunt Helen" could also be named after "Spike," I explained.
Well, she was a nice lady. Someone else had bought the star for her poodle. I asked her for her email address so we could talk some more.In the first note I sent to her, I offered her a deal. Read these reports about these star scam companies, and promise me not to buy any stars or recommend this rip-off to others. "Read and promise, then we'll talk," I offered.
After she read the information, she called back, agreed to the terms and I told her I'd do what I could to locate her star, but no promises. I asked for any information she received. She sent me this from her starchart: Monoceros RA6h24m54.29s D6 19'42.35"
So I booted up my computer and brought up an astronomy software program called SkyMap Pro 9. I found many stars near the location, and none exactly at the coordinates she sent to me. So I got the chance to tell her a little about precession (Earth's wobble) and asked if she knew what epoch (adjusts for the wobble) her start chart coordinates were from. Of course she had no idea. After some more correspondence, she mailed me the "star chart" she received. And I had to chuckle... the chart showed a huge 30 degree square (really big) swath of sky, including all of the constellation Orion and plenty of Monoceros. A circle identified the dead poodle "star." The circle, about 3 degrees (imagine the stars you'd see in an area of the sky twice as large as that taken up by the full moon) , but in diameter showed three stars brighter than magnitude 9, and dozens of fainter stars. The one that matched her coordinates best was magnitude 9.63 Tycho 145-1922-1, at RA 06h 24m 59.5279s Dec. +06 19'.47.743".
She wanted to come to a star party right away to see her star. I invited here to Lake Sonoma on the night I located it myself. I invite here to Fremont Peak. I explained Monoceros won't be visible much longer. We agreed to get together Saturday night, April 5th, 2003 on Mount Tamalpais. I explained to her there were many lovely stars and constellations named officially after dogs and that while I will be happy to show her the area of Tycho 145-1922-1 I think she will be happier to look at the celestial canines Canis Major, the great dog, Canis Minor, the lesser dog. and even Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs when she looks into the sky to remember her poodle.
Those constellations were truly named after dogs and her poodle would be happier romping with them than with a bogus dog star which already has aname: Tycho 145-1922-1.
Together we will view brilliant white Sirius, the real dog star in Canis Major, mellow yellow Procyon in Canis Minor and regal Cor Caroli, in Canes Venatici, the major dog stars in the canine corps of the sky. And we'll take a look at mag 9.63 Tycho 145-1922-1 while we are in the area.
Although this is a true story, Happy April 1, everybody!
Postscript to Krissy: She never showed up! Then I moved to Southern California!
- Music Bridge:
- Blue Garden
- Artist: I'm Not a Gun
- CD: We Think As Instruments (City Centre Offices)