Pictures in the Sky

One of the earliest activities we engaged in when we first got into astronomy is the same one we like to show our children just as soon as their excitement about the night sky begins to surface.  That is the fun of finding constellations.  But finding constellations and using them to navigate the sky is a discipline that goes back virtually to the dawn of man.  In fact, we have cave pictures to show that the more primitive of human societies could “see pictures” in the sky and ascribe to them significance.

Constellations also have been important in culture and navigation long before we had sophisticated systems of navigation.  Early explorers, particularly by sea, relied exclusively on the night sky to help them find their way to their destination.  In fact, when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492” and “discovered” America, he could not have done it without astronomy and the help of navigation of the cosmos, much of which is made possible because of the important constellations.

Our Neighbors in Space

We have a special feeling toward the other planets that circle our sun.  Maybe it’s all the science fiction stories about visiting the moon, Mars and other planets.  But we love to think about those planets that make up what we call “the solar system.” that do what our planet does but do it very differently indeed.

The planets of our solar system have taken on personalities and mythical appeal in our literature and arts.  It is easy to find artists who render their vision of the planets that make up our society of planets near our sun.  The names of the planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are all from our cultural past being gods from Greek and Roman mythology.  But the solar system is not just made up of these planets.  The solar system is a very busy place indeed.

Moon Gazing

For many of us, our very first experience of learning about the celestial bodies begins when we saw our first full moon in the sky.  It is truly a magnificent view even to the naked eye.  If the night is clear, you can see amazing detail of the lunar surface just star gazing on in your back yard.

Naturally, as you grow in your love of astronomy, you will find many celestial bodies fascinating.  But the moon may always be our first love because is the one far away space object that has the unique distinction of flying close to the earth and upon which man has walked.

Moon Fever

Of all of the celestial bodies that capture our attention and fascination as astronomers, none has a greater influence on life on planet Earth than it’s own satellite, the moon.  When you think about it, we regard the moon with such powerful significance that unlike the moons of other planets which we give names, we only refer to our one and only orbiting orb as THE moon.  It is not a moon.  To us, it is the one and only moon.

The moon works its way into our way of thinking, our feelings about romance, our poetry and literature and even how we feel about our day in day out lives in many cases.  It is not only primitive societies that ascribe mood swings, changes in social conduct and changes in weather to the moon.  Even today, a full moon can have a powerful effect on these forces which we acknowledge even if we cannot explain them scientifically.

Look – Up in the Sky!

When television was young, there was a hugely popular show based on the still popular fictional character of Superman.  The opening of that show had a familiar phrase that went, “Look.  Up in the sky.  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s Superman!”  How beloved Superman has become in our culture and the worldwide fascination with extraterrestrials and all things cosmic only emphasizes that there is a deep curiosity in all humans about nature and astronomy, even if many people would not know to call it astronomy.

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences of all time.  When archeologists unearth ancient civilizations, even as far back as the cavemen, they invariably find art that shows mans unquenchable fascination with the stars.  To this day, you can easily get an animated discussion at any gathering on the topic of “Is there intelligent life on other planets?”