It is ever amazing to this writer how one needs to make great plans and spend large sums to reach the far ends of the world, and even a trip, say to Florida, takes no small change and requires some effort - including deciding if you are flying, driving or walking.

It is ever amazing to this writer how one needs to make great plans and spend large sums to reach the far ends of the world, and even a trip, say to Florida, takes no small change and requires some effort - including deciding if you are flying, driving or walking.


In this age of mobility, we do just that far more than our forefathers would have dreamed, though the Earth remains a pretty big place despite our claims it is a “small world.”


Yet tonight if the sky is clear you have the ability to look billions upon billions of light years, far, far into the Universe. With a modest, portable telescope you can locate incredibly distant galaxies, each at least as grand as our own Milky Way, and this is the best part - you can do this without even stepping off your porch.


Unless of course your porch is under the glare of neighborhood lights. It’s also amazing how just one unshielded security light, neon sign or street lamp can cut you off from the vast fields of stars spread across the night sky!


This cosmic adventure awaits you every clear night. Without even a telescope or spending a penny, you can feel you have transported across the fantastic spans of space. Yet the sky is not “there” and you are “here.” Through all this, we realize we are very much a part of the Grand Plan, traveling our wonderful speck of dust we call the Earth, an integral part of the rotating, revolving cosmos.


Or you can catch what’s on the tube - that means TV to you modern flat-screen television lovers without a cathode ray tube on the back of the screen. You can pass time surfing the Web. Better yet, the show above your head outside can have much more to offer and carries no monthly fee!


This past week the writer had such an experience, and never left the deck. Nearly overhead was the Big Dipper, so familiar (hopefully) to most everyone of any age in the northern hemisphere.


To even the most seasoned sophisticated astronomer, the seven stars of the Big Dipper surely never dim in the fascination held from childhood. Under a dark sky, like every other region of the sky, the Big Dipper contains much more awaiting a telescope in the hands of a curious stargazer. Amidst the bowl and around the handle and surrounding the Big Dipper, in the vast outer reaches of space, lie an untold number of galaxies. A small to medium sized backyard telescope reveals many of them.


Even a good pair of binoculars, under a dark sky, will show a couple of the brighter galaxies near the Big Dipper, known as M81 and M82. A good star chart will show you the dimmer stars just ahead of the Big Dipper’s bowl, allowing you to carefully “star hop” to the faint, fuzzy patches which are the galaxies.


It’s best to let your eyes adapt to the darkness, and have your flashlight covered with red paper or even a red sock. Once you focus the stars as points of light, if you see two dim ones that are close together but seem NOT in focus, these are more than likely M81 and M82.


Or something a lot closer like smudges on your lenses. Please don’t touch the lenses, and clean them carefully as you would your eyeglasses!


Stop and think, that these “fuzzy spots” are great masses of stars and nebulae, and surely though far beyond our detection, planets and moons, in their own galactic home far away from the galaxy we call the Milky Way.


In a telescope, some of the brighter galaxies appear as thin needles. Spiral galaxies are thin like a music record (excuse me, I meant CD), but with a bright bulge in center- the hub of stars from which the amazing spiral arms stretch out and about which the whole system slowly spins. When seen looking at the edge, it appears like a thin line, with a thicker center. Others happen to be oriented face-on, looking straight down on the spiral, so it appears like a circle with a brighter center - or if at another angle, like an ellipse.


If you venture to be a galaxy hunter, you will of course need at least a small telescope on a good tripod or other mount, a detailed star atlas, and experience that comes from keep going out and looking up, getting used to the telescope’s movements and how to read a star chart. Galaxies are very faint and tiny in the eyepiece, so you will need patience and dark-adapted eyes. Don’t expect gloriously detailed and colored views like in the usual published photos. Though so inconspicuous, it can be well worth the effort to reflect on the vastness and wonder of it all.


Look for bright planet Jupiter low in the west after sunset. Saturn appears like a bright star low in the east, in mid-evening this month.


Full moon is on Friday, March 19.


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Keep looking up!