I am a person who really, really appreciates the astronomy night sky! I and find Glacier Point to be a perfect place to view the night sky. There are no city lights to get in the way of my view. And I always find the crowds are gone at Glacier Point by 9 pm on just about any night of the year in Yosemite National Park.
I recommend that you get to Glacier Point before the sun goes down. That way you can watch the sierra Nevada mountains above Yosemite Valley glow in a pink and orange hue. I would however encourage you to check the forecast ahead of time, because clouds are the only thing that will block your view of an amazing night sky.
Below is information that I have learned over the last few years about the astronomy night sky. I want to help you learn a few things before you begin because I know that your experience will be that much richer.
After the sun goes down, I find it takes my eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the dark. Any star that you can see with the naked eye is in our galaxy. The galaxy that we live in is so huge, that it would take a hundred thousand years to get beyond it.
The universe has no end. The universe has a hierarchy of structure. Our earth is part of the solar system that is nested inside the Milky Way. The part of the universe that we are able to see contains more than 100 billion separate galaxies.
The earth is 25,000 light years away from the center of our galaxy. The center of our galaxy is the Milky Way. Some galaxies interact with other galaxies. When they do, they are called, clusters. Stars do not last forever. Eventually, they fade away. A star is a hot ball of gas that generates energy through nuclear fusion in their cores. Stars have different colors, temperatures, brightness and life spans.
Stars and galaxies are made up of clouds of gas, dust and dark matter. They are all held together by gravity. I love how they come in 5 shapes: spiral, barred spiral, elliptical (a football shape), lenticular (a lens shape) and irregular.
Our solar system has stars and everything that orbits our sun. Planets such as Jupiter are made of gas. Earth and Mars are made up of rock.
Our sun is estimated to be 4.6 billion years old. It is made up of three parts. The center is the core, the middle is the radiative zone and the final layer is the convective zone. The sun's visible surface is called the photosphere. The core has a temperature of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. I find it hard to fathom, but the surface temperature is 9,932 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun is a medium size star and it dominates our solar system, It is our source of heat and light.
If we could get in our car and drive to the sun, at 60 mph it would take us 177 years to get there!
A shooting star is a streak of light that moves across the night sky. I always see these when I am here in Yosemite National Park. A shooting star is dust particles entering and burning up in the atmosphere. A bigger, brighter streak across the night sky is a fireball. A fireball is a large meteor that is burning up.
How bright a star is all depends on how big it is and how far away it is. The brightest star that we can see is called, Sirius. Stars may appear to be in a fixed place in our astronomy night sky. But the truth is, they move very slowly.
Meteors showers are made up of shooting stars. Light is radiated as dusty fragments of stars, comets and asteroids come into our atmosphere.There are about 1 million visible meteors happening each day. You have to be in a dark place, free of light, to see them.
Neil Armstrong was the first man to step foot on our moon. He landed on the moon July 20th, 1969. The moon is the fifth largest planet in our solar system. There is no life on the moon. Twelve men have walked on the moon. It is 238,900 miles away from us. The moon is the easiest thing to spot in the astronomy night sky.
Comets are chunks of ice and rock. Some are miles in diameter. Comets that are made up of ice can be hundreds of miles wide. Meteoroids are the remains of dust from comets. Large comets that come close to our sun will produce long, glowing tails that can be tens of millions of miles into space that are bright enough for us to see.
The earth is the third closest planet to the sun. It is thought to be 4.56 billion years old. Our earth is the only known planet to have water on our surface. Three-fourth of earths surface is covered by water. It fascinates me that the earth orbits the sun at an average speed of 67,000 mph.
The earth is surrounded by the atmosphere, a layer of gases that is hundreds of miles thick. The gases are what have come out of our volcanoes.
When you look up in the sky, the Milky Way looks like a long white band of white stars. About 100 billion stars make up the Milky Way. The Milky Way is a large spiral galaxy that is easy to see here in Yosemite. It began at least 13.5 billion years ago. In the middle of the Milky Way there is a black hole. The Milky Way has a diameter of abut 100,000 light years and a thickness of abut 2,000 light years.
A star chart is a map of the universe. It shows us where galaxies of stars are. Star charts use imaginary lines to connect stars to form shapes. Shapes like animals, people and objects. Stars have all been given a name. A star chart will help you learn about the astronomy night sky.
Our sky has been divided up into 88 parts so that everything can be named and mapped. Each divided piece of space is called a constellation. Constellations use patterns of stars to make recognizable shapes. I find the most familiar shapes are the big dipper and the little dipper.
The form a star takes in the ultimate stage of its life is called a stellar end point. The fate of a star is determined by its mass. Stars with a lower mass become white dwarfs. Stars with a high mass become black holes.
Most all of the United States National Parks are a great place to enjoy astronomy night sky stargazing. (Click here to see a list of US National Parks) Some of the darkest skies in the United States are found at these US National Parks: Death Valley National Park, Arches National Park and Great Basin National Park.
I believe that everyone can enjoy a night of astronomy night sky stargazing. You just have to get out into an open space on a clear, dark night.
My family and I found it very handy and fun to have a red beam laser pen to view the astronomy night sky. We used it to point out certain stars and constellations. We always dress in layers and bring a pillow or a chair. I bring snacks and drinks and we enjoy the astronomy night sky show!