Getting to know the night sky is not much different from getting to know your neighbourhood, city, province or country. Some of us skip a few steps and venture farther to neighbouring countries or feel a real need for speed and travel right around the world. A select few have progressed past all of this and have become zero gravity junkies, living and working beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
In getting to know the night sky, you first visit Earth’s immediate neighbourhood – the Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars, the gas planets, the Sun and other objects of the solar system. Some skip these steps and venture to our second nearest star system, Alpha,Beta and Proxima Centauri. Others explore the thousands of star clusters and nebulae between the millions and millions of stars that form our Milky Way Galaxy.
The ultimate thrill seekers search for galaxies outside our own, whizzing past the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are visible to the naked eye and farther and farther into space. A select few go for gold and with the aid of “Extremely Very Large” telescopes see back in time, as far back as thirteen billion years and more, to where it all began.
Whichever adventure you embark on, there will be pros and cons.
You will either be constantly on the move or quite stationary. Reading road maps during the day is much easier than reading sky maps in the dark.
Discovering new places on Earth and in the night sky are equally thrilling. On daytime excursions you need to look respectable most of the time. On night sky adventures you need not fret if you have left your vanity case at home.
During the day you could get struck by a buck. Snakes are nocturnal.
Jet lag or lack of sleep are to be expected. You have the option of lugging along heavy baggage or travelling light.
Adverse atmospheric conditions could put a damper on any adventure.
Depression is a normal side-effect when you return to reality. This is a necessary condition which drives you to plan your next excursion.
Which destination will beckon? Plenty sunshine or plenty starshine?
Traffic, crowds, noise, queues or solitary stillness, with or without a few like-minded friends.
In my case, getting to know the night sky will most probably outweigh all other options…