Tag Archives: astronomy

Start with astronomy

I can think of no better way to start a blog post about the night sky than to quote The Friendly Giant: “look up, look wayyyyy up”. Stars, planets, moons, constellations and galaxies are all things to search for and observe in the night sky.

The warmth of summer is a great time to start learning and you don’t need a massive telescope. A good pair of binoculars will reveal a number of objects that your unaided eye can’t see and they are a great way to learn how to navigate the night sky.

The Winnipeg Public Library has a great selection of resources to help you. I’ve selected a variety of books and television shows from our print and online streaming collections to get you started.  Just for fun, I’ve thrown in some stuff by Neil de Grasse Tyson and the potential for life in the Universe.  Excelsior!

SETI: Astronomy as a Contact Sport with Jill Tarter
This is a documentary about the organisation SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Among many goals, SETI wants to try to answer the question “are we alone?” SETI does this by listening for signals that could originate from extraterrestrial civilizations in other parts of the universe.

These four videos are part of a 12 episode series called Our Night Sky which examines different objects in the sky such as planets, stars, constellations and where they can be found in different seasons:

Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries with Neil deGrasse Tyson
Join Neil deGrasse Tyson as he discusses what we know and don’t know about the universe. Explore new areas of research and knowledge.

Season One of Life in Our Universe with Laird Close
This 24 episode series discusses a variety of topics such as astrobiology (the study of biology beyond earth), extraterrestrial intelligence, does life exist beyond earth, different environments life could evolve in and how to terraform a planet.

The Astronomy Book by David Hughes offers a concise history of the some of the most important events in astronomy, cosmology and physics. Each topic covered is easy to read and each section uses flowcharts and graphics to help present a clear picture of new discoveries and important developments.

Wonders of the Night Sky you Must See before you Die: the Guide to the Most extraordinary Curiosities of our Solar System by Bob King
You’ve read the 1000 places you must see before you die or 1000 songs you must listen to before you die. Now there’s a list for astronomy.  Bob King introduces you to 57 sights in the night sky and provides information on how to see these objects using your eyes, binoculars and telescopes.

The Night Sky Atlas: the Moon, Planets, Stars and Deep Sky Objects by Robin Scagell
The Night Sky Atlas offers excellent maps of the sky to help you locate constellations, stars, planets and more. Clearly laid out, it is quick and easy to use. This book is a great addition for anyone starting out in astronomy.

Astronomy: a Self-Teaching Guide by Dinah Moche
Essentially an introductory course in astronomy, this is a terrific and thorough book to grab if you want to learn more than just the locations of different sights in the sky. The eighth edition has links to online resources such as fantastic color images. The book also features tests at the end of each section to help reinforce what you’ve learned.

Learning about and navigating the night sky can be an enjoyable and fulfilling pastime; I hope you find these suggestions helpful and take a look. If you’re looking for an upcoming astronomical event that is easy to see, try the Perseid meteor shower in August. The shower peaks on the nights and early mornings of August 11-12 and 12-13. You don’t need anything but your eyes!


Everything You Wanted to Know About the Universe… But Were Afraid to Ask


The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. — Eden Phillpotts

When I was a child my Dad shared his love of the universe with me.   We lived outside the city and when it was clear we would look up in amazement at everything we could see and imagine all those celestial bodies we knew were there but could not see.   Now, on cold nights when everything above seems crystal perfect, the stars call out to me again.

BackyardIf you need help telling Orion from Ursa Major a good starting point is The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide. Astronomers Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer provide expert guidance on the right types of telescopes, astrophotography, star charts, software, and more. With over 500 color photographs and illustrations, this book is one of the most valuable, beautiful, and user-friendly astronomy books ever produced.

For a guide to Winnipeg skies one of the newest experiences to see right here in our city is “the first Planetarium in Canada to feature the new all-dome Digistar 5 projections system”.

casemarsWith a landing sequence worthy of a Hollywood flick the rover Curiosity has landed on Mars. Got an extra $30 billion?  Robert Zubrin has a project for you – colonization!  The Case for Mars is his guide to planning missions, building a base , exploring a new planet, and why it’s all a great idea.  Here’s how explorers can use existing technology to travel to Mars, manufacture fuel and oxygen with Mars’ natural resources, build settlements and one day perhaps even terra-form.

plutoRemember when there were nine planets?  When Pluto was discovered it was thought to be as big as Earth, based on how much light it reflected. It turns out Pluto is an ice ball, smaller than our Moon, but reflecting more light.  How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is Mike Brown’s story of how he made the discovery of a lifetime, a tenth planet, leading to Pluto’s demotion to the status of “dwarf planet”.   Much to his surprise, Brown received hate mail from schoolchildren and fended off the media.   He gives an insider’s view of perhaps the most tumultuous year in modern astronomy.

gravitysGravity’s Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos by astrophysicist Caleb Scharf explains how recent research has revealed different sides to the “classic” black hole. These chasms in space-time don’t just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge beams and clouds of matter — black holes blow bubbles!  Find out what these super-heated jets of stellar wreckage mean to us on earth.

Recently we witnessed a transit of Venus, when it moved between the earth and the sun.  Today such a transit is mostly spectacle but not long ago it was the key to calculating the exact earth-sun distance, a measurement that would help astronomers improve their understanding of our solar system and aid navigation for ships at sea.  Teams from Europe and America raced to get to locations that would give favourable viewing locations for the 1761 and 1769 transits – the world was a much bigger place when travel was only by horse and sail.                                                          

worldThe Day the World Discovered the Sun by Mark Anderson and   chasing Chasing Venus by Andrea Wulf  look at these transits, when astronomers struggled to reach prime viewing locations in distant lands; from arctic islands to the trackless forests of Catherine the Great’s Russia, from the shores of Hudson Bay to Point Venus, Tahiti. Some teams endured months of travel in heartbreaking conditions, desperately hoping for a sunny day.

hawkingStephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time has been called the “least-read bestseller ever”; also available as an illustrated edition or a book for younger readers written with daughter Lucy. Hawking explores such  thoughtful questions  as: How did the universe begin and what made it possible? Does time always go forward? Is the universe unending or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?

Remember, keep watching the skies.  — Ray Bradbury


Victoria works in adult reference where she puts her overactive imagination to work everyday.