I was given an enormous assignment for this month’s blog, “Write about the night sky,” CEO Tara MacDougall said, “in 500 words or less.”
When I was a little girl, our house on Mt. Hamilton, California was right next door to the James Lick Observatory, where the biggest reflector telescope in the world was being built. My dad, an astronomer, took me over to see the progress the day the 120” faceted mirror was slowly rolled into the domed building and set in place.
He told me the mirror was used to collect light from distant objects. The telescope allowed him to photograph the stars, moon and planets. He was gone many nights, staying warm in an old leather flight jacket, taking slides of the heavens and we little girls had to play quietly on summer mornings because “daddy” had been up all night “observing.” Observing became a way of life for all of us.
Every clear evening, our dad called us outside to look at the stars. As a teenager, I tired of his requests to “come see Venus” or whatever the ‘planet du jour’ might be. I found a variety of things worth losing sleep over, and ‘observing’ was never one of them. I was too busy observing people – their language, their habits, their expressions. Typical teen stuff. But as I grew older, the more interested I became in observing the world broadly.
Last week we stared at a big screen in a park playing “The Life of Pi.” Parts of the film were too brutal to watch, so I turned my gaze upwards and focused on the spectacular star show above – the Big Dipper, Orion and Cassiopeia. Despite having an astro-physicist for a father, I was not born with a wealth of knowledge of the stars – and learning about Astronomy has been slow-going. For me, the stars are all about wonder and perspective – a fairly un-scientific response. I have tried to put my sense of wonder to good use by becoming a keener observer of everything around me.
I encourage you to take your children outdoors to discover the night sky. If you, like me, need a good resource to help explain the basics, NASA has a fantastic website called, StarChild.
For indoors star gazing and to engage older kids, check out “Celestia”- a free, 3-D real-time space simulator. Download the free software here. Get started by running the beautiful, mind-boggling demo and get your family hooked on astronomy.
Watch the Discovery Center website for details on upcoming astronomy and planetarium programs.
Billie Bidelman Little, Creative Advisor and Founding Director
The Discovery Center STARLab planetarium was given to Discovery Center in honor of Dr. W.P. Bidelman some years ago. Known to his fellow astronomers as a “peculiar star man,” he created an extensive ‘star log’ detailing the chemical composition of stars.