Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pointing Out the Pointers

Early last week, Ann asked me to go outside with her and point out some stars. She'd been studying the sky in school. It was one of the clear but cold nights just before we actually got snow around here, but I was only too happy to oblige. The sky's not very dark in the suburbs, but dark enough for me to show her some basic items, including the way that the easy-to-identify Big Dipper and Cassiopeia appear to circle the North Star tightly.

After we went inside, she said down and drew this. Not for school, just because she wanted to.

Spot-on, except for the minor detail that the Pointers actually refer to Dubhe (α) and Merak (β) at the edge of the Big Dipper's bowl, not Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper itself. I showed her that when you draw a line from Merak to Dubhe and beyond, it will point to Polaris (without bothering with the stars' formal names; I never can remember which is which, anyway). It's unlikely that she'll ever forget how to find the North Star.

This evening the sky was layered with high thin clouds, but when I went out to the garage I could still see a thin-crescent setting Moon (new moon was yesterday), a bright Venus above that, and a less bright but still visible Jupiter high in the southern sky. I went inside and asked the girls to come look at the sky. Lilly didn't want to, citing the cold (only about freezing), but Ann went. The Moon, she said, looked like a smiley face.

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