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Viewing the Night Sky

Unquestionably, one of the most entertaining ways to learn astronomy is simply to look up. While the summer nights are short and dusk does not happen until quite late, the relaxed pace of the summer and the locations where summer nights are generally clearer can make for some spectacular views. In the Northern Hemisphere, unfortunately, the winter sky is a bit more spectacular, but there are still some fantastic targets for the first-time stargazer with a moderately-sized telescope or pair of binoculars. Highlights include the Pleiades and the Crab Nebula as well as the planets and the Moon as they make their treks through the sky.
 
The best way to learn about the sky is to start by orienting yourself with respect to the constellations. Get a good sky chart (http://skymaps.com/ is a pretty good starting point) and try to pick out the patterns. Once you get a good handle on the situation, you should begin to note the movement of the sky. The entire sky makes a complete rotation once every 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.0916 seconds because that's the rate at which the Earth moves as it rotates around its axis and revolves around the Sun. This movement is perceptible after only a few minutes. Compare the location of a star near the Eastern or Western horizon to notice the rising and setting of the entire sky.
 
After you become more comfortable, try to look for some bright targets using a telescope. Getting your first view of a planet is often very exciting, but double stars, star clusters, and planetary nebulae are also good first-try targets. Eventually, you may find that you are interested in learning more, and when you get to that point, you'll want to research how to see fainter and more diffuse objects. Dark skies help a lot. Get away from city lights and remove obstacles from your field of view if you can.
 
One more thing: August 11 and 12 hosts what is usually the best meteor shower of the year: the Perseids. To view this event, just go out to an open area with a view of the entire sky. Meteors can be seen with the naked eye so no special equipment is necessary other than a lawn chair and your patience. On a good night with dark skies, you'll be able to see dozens of meteors an hour!
 
A view of the heavens can be an educationally rewarding and exciting experience. Try it out! I'm sure you will enjoy it.
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