Image credit: NASA, ESA, A. Sarajedini (University of Florida), and G. Piotto (University of Padua [Padova])
I'd forgotten how beautiful and clear the night sky can be at this time of year. But this morning, as my husband slept in, I could hear our dogs stage-yawning and making other noises. It was time for their "morning constitutional," and somebody needed to get up!
After a dreary, cloud-filled couple of days, I wasn't expecting much in the predawn, yet when I opened the door, it was as if I was in a Disney movie--you know, that point when the orchestra plays a grand tune while the camera sweeps back for a big panoramic shot of the Serengeti or a North American waterfall.
In a word, it was beautiful. I was taken back to a book project I'd worked on in 2003 called A Year of the Stars by Fred Schaaf (Prometheus Books), which is remarkably still available in hardcover. (Some smaller houses and academic presses actually do keep their books in print.) Schaaf, a contributor and editor for Sky & Telescope magazine and author of other books on stargazing, takes you on a year-long journey through the night sky and makes you want to run out and buy a telescope. (And you can do just that, as he gives some advice on how to select a telescope. There's also discussion on colors of stars, how brightness is measured, and so on, but it's written in a friendly manner for the layperson.)
In November, for instance, in the high northeast sky, you can see Aries the Ram, the Pleiades cluster (aka the Seven Sisters), and the Andromeda galaxy. It's spectacular, and if you read the book, Schaaf divulges when it's the most opportune time for skywatching. Hint: it's a time of year when even those of us who "sleep in" are rising before dawn anyway.
Don't forget to check out the incredible photo gallery at Hubblesite.