January 6: The Spacewriter’s Top Ten Reasons Stargazing is Cool


365DaysDate:  January 6, 2009


Title:  The Spacewriter’s Top Ten Reasons Stargazing is Cool

Podcaster:  Carolyn Collins Petersen

Description:  Are you new to stargazing? Or have you been doing it a while?  Astronomy is a science that just about anybody can do, no matter what your experience level is. It’s also one of the most sublime things you can do for enjoyment and inspiration. There’s just something so wonderful about standing (or lying or sitting) under a starry sky that evokes feelings of awe and wonder. Anybody who stargazes has their own reasons for doing it, and everybody has at least 10 reasons why they think it’s cool. These are mine.

Music from “A Gentle Rain of Starlight”  by GEODESIUM
Soundtrack production: Mark C. Petersen

Link:  Loch Ness Productions

Bio: Carolyn Collins Petersen is a science writer and show producer for Loch Ness Productions, a company that creates astronomy documentaries and other materials. She works with planetariums, science centers, and observatories on products that explain astronomy and space science to the public. Her most recent projects were the Griffith Observatory astronomy exhibits in Los Angeles and the California’s Altered State climate change exhibits for San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences. She has co-authored several astronomy books, written many astronomy articles, and is currently working on a new documentary show for fulldome theaters and a vodcast series for MIT’s Haystack Observatory.

Today’s Sponsor: Loch Ness Productions


Hi!  I’m Carolyn Collins Petersen, and I’m a science writer. I specialize in astronomy and space science.  And, I’m also a longtime stargazer.

Now, I like to go out stargazing because it’s a very cool thing to do. Recently I was thinking about why I enjoy it so much and I came up with my “Top Ten Reasons Why Stargazing is Cool” and I decided – hey-why not share them here?

So, let’s start. Here’s number ten!

Stargazing is absolutely free!  Just step outside on a dark night and look up! You don’t need fancy equipment to get started, just your eyes.  Once you know the naked-eye sky, you can use binoculars or a telescope to look at dimmer and more distant objects. And – the best thing is — it doesn’t matter if you live in the city or out in the middle of nowhere. There’s always something out there for you to see.

Number Nine. You can see a really long ways with your naked eye. In fact — if you have reasonably dark skies — you can see across two and a half MILLION light-years of space. That’s how far away the Andromeda Galaxy is. And, it’s the most distant thing you can see without using a telescope or binoculars.

Number eight. You can see planets out there!  Look for Venus around sunrise or sunset. It’s often called the Morning or Evening Star (even though it’s NOT really a star, of course, though it looks like a really bright one in the sky).  Jupiter spends all of 2009 in the constellation Capricornus and you can look for Saturn drifting through Leo until September, when it passes into Virgo.

Number Seven. The Moon is fascinating and it will never disappoint you. Watch it over the course of a month and notice how it changes. If you look at it through binoculars or a telescope, you’ll see craters and mountain ranges and lava plains in sharp detail!

Number Six. You can use a telescope to check out places where stars are forming.  They’re huge clouds of gas and dust called starbirth regions. The Orion Nebula is a good example of one of these stellar nurseries. Or, look at the Eagle Nebula in the constellation Serpens.

Number Five. You can see the remains of stars that have died. For this one you DO need a telescope. If you have access to one, check out the Crab Nebula in the constellation Taurus. It’s an expanding cloud of debris left  over when a massive star exploded as a supernova. In the southern hemisphere sky, check out Eta Carinae, in the constellation Carina. It’s a super massive star that’s definitely going to explode sometime in the near future.

Number Four. Stargazing gives you a great view of the inside of OUR own galaxy. Here’s how that works: when you look up on a starry night, you’re seeing the stars of the Milky Way – from our vantage point in one of the spiral arms! And, on warm summer nights or chilly winter ones,  look overhead for a faint band of light running across the sky — that’s the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy – and when you look at it, you’re seeing it edge-on, from the inside.

Number Three. Stargazing is a great thing to do with family and friends. And I’ve got first-hand experience with that. I got started when my dad took me outside one night to look at the stars. Later on, when I was first dating the guy who became my husband, we used to go out on stargazing dates. So, looking up at the sky has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. And, it can be that way for you, too.  So, get some folks together and do a little group stargazing!

Number Two. Stargazing gives you a sense of cosmic scale. Astronomy has shown us that we’re small creatures on a rocky planet tucked in orbit around a yellow star in one of the outer spiral arms of a huge galaxy. And, the Milky Way is just one of countless galaxies that make up the universe for as far as we can see.

Think about that….

Finally, here’s my number one reason for why stargazing is cool.

Each time you step outside to look at the sky, you find something new. You can learn something you didn’t know before. You broaden your horizons.  And, the sky keeps you coming back for more.

So, that’s my top ten list for why stargazing is cool.  You can make your own list by just stepping outside-tonight– and starting your own journey to the stars.

Come on out – the universe is a great place to explore!

If you’d like to see images of the objects I’ve described here or some sky charts to help you find them in the night sky– surf on over to my blog at: www.thespacewriter.com/wp and look at my 365 days of astronomy pages.

Thanks for listening!

Written and copyrighted by Carolyn Collins Petersen of Loch Ness Productions

Used by 365 Days of Astronomy by permission of the author in conjunction with the related podcast.

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.


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6 Responses to January 6: The Spacewriter’s Top Ten Reasons Stargazing is Cool

  1. Richard Smith January 6, 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    Carolyn you really hit the nail on the head! How really easy, simple, and beautiful astronomy can be has been lost to the general public. Anyone can do it, and everyone should do it! Your podcast just made my morning – thanks!

  2. Mike Phenow January 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm #


    Except that I’d promote #2 to #1. Nothing beats the sheer wonder and awe of trying to comprehend and experience cosmic scale.

    To throw a little fuel on the fire, read some wonderfully-written, accessible prose descriptions (Sagan and Bryson are both excellent) of cosmic scale (both time and space), gawk at Hubble’s high-res Extended Groth Strip for a while (make special note of the reference scale), turn on appropriate music of choice (I think Bach’s Musical Offering suits the task well), add a splash of your preferred potable (dark red wine or a good whiskey come to mind), light a good cigar with which to ponder (think Samuel Clemens), and THEN sit back for some star-gazing. And hang on.

  3. Mike T. January 7, 2009 at 1:12 am #

    Wonderful lists, makes me wish that I was outside in the dark all night with my son looking at the sky, and listening to him describe what figures he sees in the field of stars, and making his own list to share with his old man.

  4. ccpetersen January 12, 2009 at 12:40 am #

    Glad you all liked the podcast! Tell your friends about 365 Days of Astronomy!


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