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Touring the Skies By: Jim Bonser (

March 1, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God;        the skies proclaim the work of his hands I became seriously involved in amateur astronomy in 1992, when I bought my first ‘real’ telescope from my friend Mark Bro.  I was seriously ‘interested’ in astronomy for many years before that, but especially in the two or three leading up to that purchase.  Back then I liked to go out in the driveway and lay down on my back and just stare at the star filled sky.  Even though we lived in Tama, the skies were reasonably dark and I could see lots of stars and the Milky Way was easy to see.  At that time, the only star I knew by name was Polaris, the North Star and two constellations, The Big Dipper (not really a constellation, but let’s not get picky) and Orion.  I can still remember just looking at the beautiful stars scattered about, unordered in my mind since I had not learned how to group them into their proper constellation patterns yet, and wondering what their names were.  I knew the Bible mentioned the Pleiades and Orion and there was a verse that said God counts the number of stars and calls them all by name (Psalm 147:4).   Eventually, I began to learn the names of many of the stars and most of the constellations that can be seen from Iowa.  The night sky is very familiar to me now.  Unfortunately, these days it seems I find myself looking at the sky more to get my bearings than to admire its beauty and majesty.  I realized this when I was visiting my brother Tom in Texas a couple of weeks ago.  Tom and His wife Glynis live in a very nice mobile home park near Dallas, Texas.  Deb and I went to visit and naturally I took a little of my telescope gear with me, ‘just in case’.  I set up my little 80mm telescope just to refamiliarize myself with my AstroTrac mount and a bunch of little kids started to gather around – they were excited to see a telescope and they all wanted to look ‘at the solar system’!  Apparently they have been learning about the planets in school and wanted to see them all!   The moon was almost full and just beginning to clear the tree tops so I centered it in the eyepiece and let them have a look.  The oooh’s and ahh’s were a joy to listen to, let me tell you!  Pretty soon I was able to see Jupiter and I aimed the little scope at mighty Jove.  There were three bright moons in a straight line out to one side, Io was out of sight, but the kids were thrilled to see far away moons around another far away planet.  It was great fun for all of us.  It reminded me to just LOOK at the beauty up there and the wonder of the night sky that truly does proclaim the glory of God!  I hope you will never forget to put aside the technical knowledge of constellations and names of stars and constellations and just take in the beauty of the night sky! Okay, I mentioned that one of the few constellations I knew before I started learning my way around the sky was Orion.  Well, Orion has started his run for the western horizon this month.  The combination of later sunsets and the natural movement of the stars toward the west as our planet moves in its orbit around the sun mean that Orion will only be visible in dark skies for a few more weeks so don’t waste any clear nights to admire the beauty of this winter constellation scene.  If you go out around 8:00 o’clock, you will find the Great Hunter almost due south, just slightly to the west of the meridian.  You probably remember that the meridian is an imaginary line that goes from the horizon due south then straight overhead (the zenith) and then continues to the northern horizon.  The easiest part of Orion to recognize is the three bright stars that make up his belt. They are about 40 degrees up from the horizon and slightly tilted, lower to the east and higher to the west.  If you have reasonably dark skies, you should be able to see the ‘sword’ that is hanging off his belt about 4 degrees (about two finger widths at arm’s length) below the central belt star.  The center of the sword is a bit fuzzy looking.  This is not due to your eyes, but in fact, is where the Great Nebula in Orion is located -  a huge cloud of gas and dust that is probably one of the most beautiful and most often photographed objects in the sky.   Quickly, the planets visible this month are: visible just after sunset at the beginning of the month, Jupiter, almost directly overhead in the early evening this month and Saturn rises around 11:00 o’clock at mid-month!  Let’s hope the skies stay clear and free of large meteors this month!  Clear Skies, Jim.

Article Photos

M42 - The Great Nebula in Orion



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