Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Look Up!

If you caught a glance skyward last night between the clouds that obscured this beautiful sight, you may have seen a very rare event, called a conjunction. This is when planets appear to be very close to each other in the sky. (See website Universe Today for more information--originator of the photo.)

The crescent waxing moon formed a "face" with Venus and Jupiter. This picture was taken in the southern hemisphere and it appears to be a smiley face. I think I saw a picture from the northern hemisphere where the crescent was upside down, I'm not sure about that.

It is a beautiful sight. I caught a very short glimpse of it last night about 6:15 p.m. I was on my way to work, and when I came out at 7:30, the clouds were covering it. Venus is the brightest planet and Jupiter is less bright, but still outstanding.

I became an amateur sky watcher years ago when I was called on to help my school district develop a science curriculum. We received a very generous donation to purchase a portable planetarium, a 20 foot diameter inflated dome, which is very dark inside! A very expensive projector displays stars, moon, planets and constellations on the inside of the dome. When you are in there with 25 squirming kids, you'd better be able to identify stuff pretty quickly so they look up, so I got good at finding the constellations, planets and could explain the seasons and moon phases. I became a guest lecturer at times, and I taught many other teachers to love this part of science. I can even find the North Star outside my door!

One year, I was voted "Teacher of the Year" for my school district. My love of things astronomical led me to choose an all expense paid trip to Space Camp as part of my award for achieving this honor. That was a wonderful reward for me, since I had loved studying and hearing about the space program for decades. I came back from Space Camp armed with new knowledge and more enthusiasm for the subject. So I developed a wonderful parent/child event called "Reach For the Stars", sharing in miniworkshop format different aspects of the study of astronomy for the parents as well as the students. I had to beg my principal to let me plan this night, he was reluctant, but liked the idea of publicity for his school with the "Teacher of the Year" doing the work. The best feature was that the miniworkshops gave the people something to do while they waited to go into the portable planetarium, 25 at a time. The activites involved role play as astronauts, listening to legends of the constellations, literature, art, EATING! The people who participated (over 125, if memory serves me!) had smiles on their faces and loved every minute of it. My principal and his assistant also had smiles on their faces, because they never had that many people come to an event, unless it involved the whole school in a singing event. I was very pleased with the outcome, and it remains a very pleasant memory for me.

Thanks for walking down memory lane with me. I hope you might see the moon and planets again tonight, the planets will be in a slightly different alignment, but look up anyway, and enjoy what you see!

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