A good thing comes to an end

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A wise man once said, "All good things must eventually come to an end," and I am sorry to say alas, that is even true for this column.

Many of you are aware I have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It has taken my hands, it is taking my legs and now my voice without which I cannot dictate the column, which my loving wife (and lifelong-secretary) has typed for me for the last several months.

I started this column, because when I received a telescope for Christmas at age 12, I was so excited, but I discovered I didn't know what to look at or where it was. That set me off on a pursuit of astronomical knowledge, which has turned into a hobby that has given me much enjoyment the years since.

I hope by writing this column about basic observational astronomy I have helped others come to love the sky as much as I do.

Astronomy is simple, it doesn't need to be complicated, there is a star and I want to look at it, easy-peasy.

Sure, there are things to learn. What constellation is that? Where is Andromeda? Is Mercury up tonight? Is that a star or a planet?

But these things all come with a little work on your part, some digging in star charts and star atlases.

There are many places online where information can be found about what is up there and where it is, and again some digging on your part.

The sky is a wonderful place. Those in ancient times used it to regulate their lives, when to plant, when to harvest, when to prepare for the winter or summer. They could do all of this because they watched the stars as they moved overhead night by night.

We today have more modern techniques for determining all that, but the stars are still there still telling their story for anyone who wants to take the time to look.

It is a wonderful and magnificent story too.

For example, several months ago, I was a little saddened because I could not go out and look at the stars. One morning, I happened to be up at around 4 am and looked out the east facing window in our bedroom.

There I saw the star Sirius just rising over the distant treeline. I knew it was Sirius because only Sirius can sparkle like that. As time passed, Sirius was rising earlier and earlier (if you knew astronomy you would know that, about four minutes each day).

Now it is rising at about 8:30 in the evening. During those intervening months I would lay in my bed watching out the window and seeing Sirius pass by. I later discovered Rigel was also out there (that is the left knee of Orion, in case you wanted to know).

See you can have fun with astronomy even when confined to a bed.

SKY WATCH: New moon, Thursday, Dec. 29. Remember new moon means no moon visible. Keep your eye on the moon as it becomes visible the next few days, because it will do a magnificent fly-by of some planets. Sunday, January 1, thin crescent moon and Venus close. Monday, Jan. 2, at about an hour after local sunset spectacular grouping of moon, Mars, and Neptune. Will be fabulous sight in telescope.

As any good reporter does when he ends a story.


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