I took a walk with my friend John on Duluth’s Lakewalk yesterday. The paved path winds along the shoreline of Lake Superior and is beloved by locals and tourists alike. Sunshine and a steady breeze off the lake made me giddy. From the looks of other smiling faces we passed I sensed they felt the same. Walking in wide-open spaces offered a release from the corona virus.
Of course, we all tried to keep our distance from one another, a skill many of are just starting to learn. It’s not easy. At times it felt like working air traffic control. Stargazing is a lot easier. You might say it’s the ultimate example of social distancing. I can walk outside in my yard or down the road and be completely alone. I don’t mind this. I’ve spent a lot of time alone under the stars and appreciate the peace and beauty they have provided over many years.
With the virus on the loose you will find that stargazing is a wonderful activity whether alone or with your family. You might even invite a friend over, remembering to keep an appropriate distance of 6 light-years, er, feet. There are so many resources to help you, too. You can print out a monthly evening sky map of the bright constellations and list of objects to observe at skymaps.com. Or download a free app like Star Chart (Android version / iPhone version). Once installed, hold your phone up to the sky, and you’ll be able to see and identify the current constellations and planets. A simple tap on any object on the screen will reveal its name and other pertinent details. For a laptop or desk computer I can’t recommend the free Stellarium sky-charting program enough.
Need help knowing when to look for the aurora? You can check here of course but also on the Great Lakes Aurora Hunters Facebook page or NOAA’s Aurora – 30 minute forecast site. Current sky events? Go to In-the-Sky.org for a monthly calendar. Satellites your thing? Try Heavens Above. Select your location and find out not only when the space station is up but also a bevy other naked-eye satellites.
We’re all going to be having more time on our hands. Use some of it to browse the Hubble Space Telescope gallery — 95 pages of lush color imagery taken by one of the most amazing telescopes not on Earth (Hubble orbits 353 miles / 568 kilometers above the Earth). Every photo you click on includes a tidily-written essay about what it depicts. It’s a fantastic way to get a free astronomy education while smothering yourself in beauty.
The stars gather by the thousands every clear night unaware of prohibitions. Join them. They remind us that as far as we know we only have each other.