Back in the glory years of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, studio chief Louis B. Mayer boasted that M-G-M had more stars under contract than there were stars in the heavens. While Mayer’s claim made excellent publicity it was a trifle off the mark.
The latest estimate fills our heavens with billions of galaxies, each filled with millions, perhaps trillions, of celestial bodies. So to enjoy star gazing it isn’t necessary to go to a movie theater. Just go outside after dark and look up.
The celestial view provides several options for enjoying the evening. It could make a magnificent backdrop for a romantic rendezvous. Or, it might inspire lofty questions of time, space and existence.
For some, it offers an opportunity to learn more about our heavenly neighbors by recognizing them and appreciating their scientific, historical and mythological significance.
The warm summer nights ahead provide a comfortable way to experience some exciting stellar viewing. And one of the best places to view “the window on the Universe” is at the Starlight Observatory in Kennebunk.
New and seasoned amateur astronomers gather at the observatory for the enjoyment and challenge of watching the cosmos. The Starlight Observatory, located on Route 35, West Kennebunk, has been in operation since 2001. It is the creation of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England (ASNNE), an all volunteer, non-profit educational organization.
Visitors to the society can use telescopes to learn how to identify constellations, stars, planets and other interstellar matter. The society also presents monthly discussions on astronomical topics and organizes outings to observe special cosmic events.
Bernie Reim, of Newfield, has been associated with ASNNE since it opened in 1982. The visit of Halley’s Comet in 1986 inspired Reim to become a star gazer. Since then he has immersed himself in the study of astronomy, writing articles and teaching classes on the stars and the related subjects.
He said, “This is great time to see the comet called Schwassmann/Wachmann 3, named after the two men who first discovered it in 1930.”
The comet makes a visit to our planet every 5.4 years. The sight of a comet on its pilgrimage through our night sky can be an inspiring sight.
Reim had several other suggestions for summer night viewing. The planet Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is most spectacular at this time of year. It appears in the eastern sky just after sunset.
On June 17 Mars, called the “Red Planet” and Saturn, with its famous rings, appear less than one degree apart. Look for them in the constellation Cancer in the western sky.
In July and August our planet witnesses the annual visit of the Perseid Meteor Shower. Sky watchers can see colorful fireballs plus long graceful streaking meteors that pierce the Earth’s atmosphere at 132,000 mph. The meteors are bits of dust from another comet called Swift-Tuttle. Although far from Earth the comet’s wide tail intersects with the Earth’s orbit creating the spectacular view. The shower streaks through the constellation Perseus, which gives the shower its name. Best viewing will be just before sunrise on August 12.
To learn more about summer star gazing visit the next public session at the Starlight Observatory, May 26 at dusk. For more information about ASNNE and the Starlight Observatory check their website, www.asnne.org.
– May 5, 2006