Friday, November 11, 2011

Observing the Earth

One of the easiest planets to observe is our own, the Earth.

It is possible to view the Earth as an "astronomical object", in a way, even though you're standing on it. One way is to view your local daily cycle of night and day as it appears on other planets and the Moon--becoming aware of the terminator as it passes by twice each day.

Another is to enjoy the events of the Earth's own sky. Clouds, colors of sunlight, meteors, and auroras are all Earth phenomena that we can enjoy as astronomers. The play of light on clouds, especially at sunset and sunrise, is not only beautiful but can tell us what the sky is going to be like in the next several hours.

Meteors can be seen on most any clear night, preferably with little moonlight. The best scientific instrument for watching meteors is a reclining lawn chair, such as a chaise lounge. Meteor showers occur regularly, but even when there are none there are a fair few meteors, and I've spent nights under the sky where I was sure there must be a shower, there were so many meteors, when there was none.

Auroras are rare at my latitude, but that makes them an even more special phenomenon. Whether I go to where they are, or whether the Sun's activity brings them to me. They're amazing and magical.

Even when I can't see the universe beyond our own atmosphere, there are clouds and often lightning to see. No night need be a "wasted" night. And if you really must observe the universe, consider making a simple radio telescope!

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