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Updated 12:17pm - Sep 29, 2014

Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow On clear days, Del Norte County is the place to gaze

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On clear days, Del Norte County is the place to gaze

The sky is the limit for stargazing in Del Norte County. (Illustration by Bryant Anderson/The DailyTriplicate).
The sky is the limit for stargazing in Del Norte County. (Illustration by Bryant Anderson/The DailyTriplicate).

By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

Stargazing doesn't take an astronomy degree, you don't have to be fully versed on the constellations and you need not own a telescope to appreciate the night sky's wonders.

"The fun thing is the stars are the same all the time," said Paul Domanchuk, president of Astronomers of Humboldt. "You can learn the constellations when you're 7 and know them at 70."

The catch is, however, to move away from the coastline, get away from the lights and climb high in altitude – which makes many areas in Del Norte County impeccable for stargazing.

"The skies are usually clearer, and you don't have to deal with the fog — you're trying to get away from the twinkle line," said Jon Pedicino, an astronomy professor at College of the Redwoods in Eureka.

And right now is the perfect time, Domanchuk said, as "these cool, clear nights are the best for seeing things, if you don't freeze to death."

Though the sun doesn't shine for as long as during the summer months, that works in stargazers' favor, especially if the moon's not out, as the sky will be dark and if weather permits, clear.

Learning the basic constellations is fairly simple, Domanchuk said, and once you know those, "You notice things that are different throughout the year."

For one, the stars rise and set just like the sun and moon, so they're constantly rotating.

And new stars and planets are always forming, Domanchuk said, most notably below and to the left of the belt of Orion — one of the best-known and easily seen constellations.

To see those that are forming, however, a pair of binoculars or telescope are recommended for optimal viewing.

With binoculars on-hand — "as long as they're steady" — you can also see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, Domanchuk said.

Also, "Look for some shooting stars, look for satellites, see the Orion constellation — those are all nice things for the wintertime," Pedicino said.

And meteors. On any given night, you can see 10 to 15 meteors in an hour, or one every five minutes, Pedicino said.

"And the neat thing about that is they're little grains of dust, little grains of sand" moving 40,000 miles an hour, burning the atmosphere, he said.

The best meteor showers are in August and December, but there's almost one each month, Pedicino said.

Satellites — military ones move from the north to south and communication satellites move east to west — are always abound.

The best time to catch one is right around sunset and dawn, Pedicino said. Though they look like stars, it's easy to detect them, as they move across the sky as fast as a plane.

"There's no way to hide them — they show up against the background of the stars," he said.

In Del Norte, the view of the western hemisphere is ideal, but move away from the ocean because "when you're looking at things low on the horizon, you're looking at a large amount of atmosphere," Pedicino said.

Just "get a little altitude — the skies are usually clearer and you don't have to deal with the fog," he said.

•••••

What to look for in the night sky

•New moon: Friday at 2 a.m. Really sharp observers under excellent conditions may be able to catch the razor thin crescent, but Saturday is much more likely.

•Moon-Venus: Saturday just after dusk, the thin crescent moon slips by Venus in the western dusk just after sunset. Look quickly, because both Venus and the moon set shortly after the sun. The moon appears slightly above and to the left of Venus, with increasing separation the farther west you are.

•Mars: Mars rises about 90 minutes before the sun and is a small target in telescopes.

•Jupiter: Jupiter rises about two hours before the sun, not far from the star Antares. Although low in the sky, it offers a nice telescopic sight, complete with satellites, for early risers.

•Venus: During the second half of January, Venus dominates the west-southwest shortly after sunset.

•Mercury: In the last few days of January, you may be able to catch Mercury in the western twilight after sunset. Start looking maybe 10 minutes after sunset.

•Moon-Saturn: Feb 2 at 9 p.m. The moon passes less than a degree to the north of Saturn in Leo. This occurs before moonrise in most locations.

SOURCE: Space.com

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