The Night Sky

by Les King

The speaker this 5th day of January was our own Dr. Les King, Ph.D. who spoke about the night sky and what people have imagined in the past and what we can see today.

Les was planetarium director for 10 yr in PA in his teaching role. Giving planetarium shows, Les’ audience would be ensconced in comfortable high back chairs with their eyes aimed toward the heavens (i.e. star map projected on the domed ceiling). He would then use a pointer to show his audience what a particular planet or star cluster (constellation) was on the projection and the ancients’ history behind the constellation.

In society today, Les pointed out our hectic pace and the lack of time taken to go outside and look up at the nighttime sky. However, the recent interest in the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky and people staying home during the pandemic has opened up the ‘fun’ of star gazing for many new people. As Les noted, the conjunction on December 21st was thought by ancients to be the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Wise Men to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Les used a print out he made of the ‘belt’ (three straight across stars in image) of ‘Orion the Hunter.’ Then he described the ancients belief that Orion fell in love with one of the maidens in the seven Maidens constellation and wanted her with him on Earth. Instead, the gods granted his wish by putting him in the heavens to be near her for eternity. Note: The Orion constellation appears to follow the Maidens constellation from east to west across the winter sky from dusk to dawn.

The stars making up the Orion the Hunter constellation in outline. Note: the three straight across stars are Orion’s Belt with his shoulders and feet the two bright stars above and below his belt. His bow is an arch of stars to the upper right of his belt.

For star gazing, Les recommended first the unaided eye then binoculars for more detail. One tip he gave was to use the binocs slightly out of focus to see the ‘true’ colors of the stars from the red to the bright white ones. The best place to star gaze is the beach on Topsail Island looking out over the ocean where background light is at a minimum. Orion is visible in the eastern sky after dusk and ‘moves’ across the sky all night long in the winter. The Milky Way galaxy just jumps out at you in the winter, too!

There are many books and internet sites that describe the 88 constellations. However, for actual star gazing Les recommends the free app ‘Stellarium’ for your smartphone. This app identifies constellations that you point your phone toward in the night sky.

Dr. Les King, a native of Pennsylvania and Veteran of the U.S. Navy, holds a BS, a MS and a PhD. During his career, he taught Physics (tough course), was director of a planetarium, and also a school administrator. He retired to Topsail Island in 1999 where he soon became involved in Kiwanis. He was President of the Club in 2007-2008, Kiwanian of the Year for 2009-2010, Carolinas District 18 Lt. Governor for 2 years, Carolinas District Regional Trustee for 3 years and then Governor of Carolinas District in 2016-2017.

Thanks, Les…for your stimulating presentation to the Club today and for your service to Kiwanis International through the Carolinas District!

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