“Prime Time” is intended as a self-paced, experiential astronomy program that is free to individuals of any age and experience level to participate in to whatever degree they choose. While the exercises are optimized for people at the latitudes of the United States, I hope everyone will find useful information here.
First, you need an idea of what’s here and where to find it. The home page consists of four major segments:
- Green tabs at top provide the starting point – especially “Start here!” and “Where to?”. With the other tabs you can introduce yourself, check a FAQ, or find links to other astronomy resources.
- “First Steps” in the column on the left – should be your next stop. These provide foundation information and observing exercises that are not tied to any particular time of year.
- “Categories” menu at the top of the right-side column is the core of the site. These links take you to posts about current, time-sensitive astronomical events, as well as observing month-by-month. Other items here are self-explanatory. You’ll also find “Recent Comments” right under it. “Recent Posts” and other items in this column follow the traditional blog entry system. They show what I am working on now – I expect to always be growing this site – but chances are this material isn’t of interest to you since I may be writing about observations to be made in August when the current month is April. However, a forecast or report on a time-sensitive event may be found this way.
- The center column has a consistent welcoming message, while under it you’ll find some recent posts, which as I say may or may not be of interest.
The “search” box under the large owl on the right searches the complete text.
Of these broad areas, the ones you’ll use the most are the “First Steps” in the links to the left and the Astro Events and monthly guides under “Categories” to the right.
Did I mention “Rapt in Awe” in the column on the left? That’s also important, but of a different nature – more reflective than instructional. I like to think of it as the soul of the site – really a separate, but related, blog/book.
I’m on the same journey as you. It never ends. If you’re curious about where I’ve been, where I’m going, and how I’ve reacted to what I’ve observed, you’ll find it in “Rapt in Awe.” This portion of the site has two major segments – a blog – traditional web journal – of my current observing experiences – and a “book” – a collection of past reflections that I have thought about publishing as a companion text to the instructional part of this site. Truth is, I first developed all this material as a book – but as I tried to massage it into final form I decided that it could be presented much better on the Web. So here we are. Hope you enjoy.
Don’t assume anything here is static. Change is the universal constant, and this site is no different. As I learn more, see more, I’ll revise more and add more.
Don’t think of this as a traditional course – or traditional book. This starts and ends with doing – with observing – not reading. But reading is important, and I am a firm believer in a three-step approach – study, observe, reflect.
Learning the guidepost stars and bright asterisms
Some people try to learn the constellations. This can be fun, especially if you have an interest in ancient myths. But it also can be very frustrating, for contrary to popular opinion, the stars do not form nice little connect-the-dots pictures of the mythical figures for whom many of the constellations are known. But there are several, easy to recognize, bright asterisms – patterns of a handful of stars, such as the seven that make up the Big Dipper – that we will use. Our major focus will be on learning the bright, “guidepost” stars and these bright asterisms. When you know these, it’s relatively easy to find dimmer objects by using charts and star-hopping from the known to the unknown.
The guidepost stars are the brightest stars we see and as such are the first to come out as the sky gets dark, usually about 45 minutes after sunset, so they’re the easiest to learn. We’ll meet one or two new stars or asterisms as they rise in the East each month. Like big cities on a map, they form focal points, and you can relate other things to them. We’ll introduce each star or asterism when it is at a comfortable viewing altitude in your eastern sky, and you’ll come to associate them with the calendar just as you associate the appearance of tulips with the spring. Most of these objects are in view for several months, but they will be easier to learn if we catch them shortly after they put in an appearance, then continue to follow them each night as their positions slowly change. With such an approach, you’ll develop an intuitive sense of not only how to find these stars, but of how our own personal spaceship is moving around the Sun while spinning on its axis and thus presenting us with a constantly changing viewpoint.
Yes – we watch the universe from a tilted merry-go-round that spins rapidly while cruising about the amusement park at an even more fantastic rate ;-)
Finally, there are astronomical events that happen only on a specific date – sometimes they happen every year on that date, sometimes they happen rarely – once every 10 years, or whatever. And sometimes they are unique events, such as the sudden appearance of a new comet. These events will be listed in the “Astro events” category. So check it for reminders and alerts about special things you won’t want to miss. If a bright comet appears without warning, I’ll put information about it in this section. If there’s a special alignment of planets that takes place once every 52 years, I’ll put it there. And if there’s a good meteor shower that happens on or about August 12 every year and will be especially good this year because the moon will not interfere with it, then it too will go in the “astro events” category.
Questions? Every single post has room beneath it for you to ask questions or make comments – including this one – and questions and comments are most welcome. The first time you use the comment form your comment needs to be approved by me, so it won’t be posted right away. Later comments by you will.
So don’t be shy. Share your discoveries or queries. We all learn from one another.