Our bit of land is nestled into the eastern slope of a tiny bowl-shaped dip in the earth formed where two little valleys intersect, but  it has a great big bowl of sky above it.

Watching the night sky is easy forget in our hectic, well-lit world, but the perspective of the cosmos is out there waiting every night.

Our timeless tutor.

I suspect humans have been looking for meaning in the night sky since we stepped out onto the African savanna.

Stargazing takes me back to laying on a blanket at night with my grandparents on their farm in the Sangamon River Valley of Central Illinois.   We would lie, looking up, enveloped in the thunderous song of cicadas, while my grandpa and grandma pointed out constellations and talked about their lives.

The sky was a lot blacker then.

But even now with light pollution from nearby towns, the BP gas station on the highway a few miles away and  my neighboring farmer’s dratted ever-blinding barnyard light — on a clear night, it’s well worth spreading out that blanket, lying back and looking up.

Last night we watched the big dipper vanish into the rising mist, caught one lonely shooting star and traveled in and out of the sailing clouds with a 3/4 moon.

Like most people, I have probably learned as much about the stars by gazing at my computer screen as I have from the sky.  Lacking grandparents now to show me the constellations, I’ll settle for the internet.

Here are a few sites that I enjoy.

photo credit Martin Pugh


There is so much out there beyond our tiny planet, and thanks to NASA we have glimpses of our vast and beautiful universe.  This site, Astonomy Picture of the Day, posts a different image of photograph and a few words by an astronomer to put it in perspective.


I love this gadget. I’ve got it on my homepage, so even on those nights when I am in the city and in the house, I still have a sense of what the moon is doing.  Keeping in daily touch with the phases of the moon (even via computer) makes me feel connected to a rhythm that humans have been plugging into since we stepped out into the savanna.


StarDate is the public education and outreach arm of the University of Texas McDonald Observatory.

You may have heard their radio spots on public radio.

Their website includes a Constellation Guide, weekly stargazing tips, how to pick a good viewing spot.

You can also subscribe to their free monthly email newsletter that will keep you updated on stargazing highlights and upcoming StarDate radio programs.



8 replies

    • Hi there, Leslie.
      I did see the the meteor shower. I was out sky watching on Saturday the 14th, and didn’t have the stamina to stay out really late because of a very rigorous day.
      But we saw six or seven shooting stars. The ones I saw were really quite dramatic. We also felt we might be seeing some Northern Lights, but that may also have been sheets of mist that were forming in our valley that night. It was a interesting to watch the mist gathering around us. Almost as much fun as watching the sky above.
      For 12 years, I lived in Lake County, IL, (the county between Chicago and Wisconsin. Lake County has a lot of great parks (which they call Forest Preserves — whether they have any trees of not) but they all closed at sundown. One of my many joys of having 44 rural acres is being allowed to wander around outside after dark.

  1. Very cool site, Michael.
    I usually just look for satellites on a very random basis, but it would be fun to have a few I keep an eye out for. I see we have some regulars to view here too.
    We had a great night star gazing Friday.

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