Amateur Astronomy

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This is a short blog for me to brag just a little bit about my progress as an amateur astronomer.

Since beginning this performance project about Vera Rubin and the celestial bodies of the Andromeda constellation and M31, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to learn something about astronomy.  I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about dark matter, Higgs Boson, and Vera's biography, but for some reason it has been basic star gazing that has presented one of the biggest challenges for me.  

For as long as I can remember, the only constellation I've been able to see has been the Big Dipper, which rises early and doesn't have a lot of other stars interfering with its shape.  (It also looks like a ladle, so that also helps).  Other than finding shooting stars, that's been the limit of my personal astronomical observations skills.

This summer, I have been attending star parties hosted by the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh to help with my developing stargazing skills.  They are great people, generous, they bring their own telescopes and share their knowledge about astronomy.  They have been so helpful because, a) they force me to stay awake and looking UP later than usual and b) they teach me where to look!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Pittsburgh, it's not the ideal place to look at the sky.  It's practically as grey and overcast as Seattle, so stargazing in this area is an act of extreme optimism.  I have attended parties on nights when really  not much happens.  Usually, we look at the moon through some of the big telescopes at the observatory near Deer Lakes park, an impressive sight.  After a while, the telescopes change positions and we look at Saturn.  The first time I looked at Saturn through a telescope I thought it was fake.  It looked so perfect on such a cloudy night that I thought someone had put a plastic icon of Saturn in the telescope.  But it wasn't a joke - it was the real deal!

The last time I went, I brought a children's book about constellations to help, along with the guided tour of the sky led by the president of the organization.  I learned to find the constellation of Andromeda by looking for the house of Cepheus.  Nearby, lives Pegasus.  And Andromeda is on one of the legs of Pegasus.

Why all of this excitement about the Pittsburgh Amateur Astronomers Association while I'm in Switzerland clowning (I promise, blogs about the clown experience are coming)?  Because....  Sunday night, after our first autocours (homework performance) there was a little party, followed by an excursion to the beach of the river.  We got there after the Big Dipper had just about disappeared behind the alps.  So I looked at the stars above me and there was the house of Cepheus.  Right next to that was Pegasus, and there was Andromeda, right where she should be.  Really, this was the first time I had successfully identified any constellation on my own, and it was even the one I've been looking for!

I caught a glimmer of a flickering star in the constellation, which I think is M31, the Andromeda Nebula, but I need to double check my sources...  Why M31?  Because that was the galaxy that Vera was watching when she observed evidence of dark matter.

Originally posted from Switzerland on August 21, 2012 on Vivian's Blog After Andromeda.