Column

Searching the Sky: A night for stargazing

David Baumgartner and a friend travel 30 miles to spend hours under the stars.

This column was provided by San Benito County resident and amateur astronomer David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

 

Sitting at home watching the news the other evening I heard the words that all astronomers love to hear: “what a night for stargazing.”  

Well, that’s all it took for me, I immediately picked up the phone and called my fellow stargazers. Because it was the middle of the week, I’m hardly surprised that all of them, except for one, couldn’t make it. I won’t divulge his name here for he told his better half that he was going to make a late night milk run. 

The next thing I knew, what’s his name—let’s call him “Joe”—and I were flying down Hwy 25 with my trailer full of everything I could think of that pertained to astronomy gear. Being that we left in such a hurry we didn’t have time to pick up any goodies for the night, but we had two gallons of milk that for some reason Joe brought along. 

Boy is he going to be in trouble when he gets home. Well, you make your bed and you have to sleep in it, or something like that. 

Our location is some 30 miles south of Hollister, 3,000 feet up in some of the best dark skies in Central California. The property belongs to a friend of mine, who is always nice enough to let us use it for our stargazing. So we are especially careful to make sure when we leave that everything is left the way we found it so we will be invited back.

Here we are, two grown men standing out in the middle of nowhere, doing something that we both enjoy immensely: observing the wonders of the night sky. We evidently can’t seem to get enough of this adventure. And I say that because before we knew it was 3 a.m.

Now that got me thinking—Here I am getting to bed at 4 a.m. knowing I have to get up sometime very soon to go to work. My back has been giving me problems, my right knee doesn’t seem to be any better, and I have been fighting an annoying headache all day.  So why do I do this? I know, with my body feeling the way it does, I wouldn’t be out playing basketball; I certainly wouldn’t be going to work; and for sure I would get out of every chore that needed to be done at home. But yet, here I am putting my body through all of this, for what?  

Well, it just happens to be one of the great loves of my life. Nothing I know can keep me up all hours of the night, without any hint of sleepiness, like the views I get through my telescope. Everyone has their thing, and this is mine. Sometimes I feel sad that everyone else doesn’t get excited like I do about astronomy. But I guess that’s not being very realistic. I know I don’t get all that excited when my wife talks about her quilting, so why should I expect everyone else to get all pumped up about astronomy?

 

Constellation of the month: Boötes, the Herdsman

The rather empty sky of spring and early summer evenings has one very bright star in the middle of it: Arcturus. It is almost overhead now. You can be sure you are looking at it when you see its slightly yellow or orange color.

As if it wasn’t easy enough to find, there is another way of finding it. Look at the Big Dipper. Its handle is bent. Imagine this curve continuing on south, this will lead you to Arcturus, the chief star of Boötes. It is the only very bright star in the constellation.

The second “o” in Boötes has two dots over it. This means you pronounce the vowels separately: “oh-OH”, not “oo.” It is a Greek word meaning a man who tends a herd of cows, so we might want to call this the cowboy constellation. If only it would make a shape like a cowboy, or even his hat or boots! It does have a fairly clear shape, though: a balloon above Arcturus, and two groups of three stars to the left and right of Arcturus representing the basket, for lack of knowing what it is called.

Starting 40 minutes before sunrise at the beginning of July you must make a point to get up and take a look at what the sun is pushing up ahead of itself into our eastern view. That would be a gorgeous string of planetary jewels, consisting of the planet Mercury on the far left and continuing on with Venus, Uranus, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune and Saturn. Viewing Uranus and Neptune will require binoculars, but the rest you can see with the naked eye. If you happen to have a telescope, these little white lights turn out to be jewels in the sky. This planetary grouping won’t line up like this again until the year 2240. I don’t know about you, but I’m putting that one on my calendar. Do you suppose humans will even be around some 218 years from now?  Hmmm.

There is so much more out there in the night skies. Take a friend and a telescope out some evening this week and see what else there is to see.  

 

What’s up in the night skies this month

July 13: Moon is at perigee (221,993 miles from Earth)

July 13: Full Moon 

July 15: Moon passes 4° south of Saturn

July 17: Moon passed 3° south of Neptune

July 18: Moon passes 2° south of Jupiter

July 20: Last Quarter Moon

July 21: Moon passes 1.1° north of Mars

July 22: Moon passes 0.2° north of Uranus

July 26: Moon is at apogee (252,447 miles from Earth)

July 26: Moon passes 4° north of Venus

July 28: New Moon

July 30: Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks

 

David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate License in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.