Looking Up: Time to take a cosmic journey
The next clear night, take a cosmic journey.
First visit the third planet from the sun – that's the Earth, which if your are standing up, is just a few feet below. (In this case, "look down"!)
For the rest you need to look up. With enough patience, you just may see a meteor. Sometimes called a "shooting star," this is actually a particle or a pebble of rock from space, pulled down by Earth's gravity and vaporized by the upper atmosphere. Meteors are about 60 miles up.
Next look at the moon; this week, you'll need to look late. Last quarter Moon is on Nov. 25 and rises around midnight. The moon is about 238,000 miles away.
See brilliant Venus in the western sky during evening twilight. Planet Jupiter, also very bright, currently may be seen rising in the east during the evening. The planets are tens to hundreds of millions of miles away.
Gaze at the canopy of stars, bright and faint. The stars you see many trillions of miles away, measured in "light years." One light year is approximately 5.8 trillion miles.
With a star map showing the late autumn evening sky, look in the area of the sky overhead (the "zenith") at about 9 p.m. (this assumes you are in the mid-northern latitudes). You will need a reasonably dark sky and dark-adapted eyes. Look for a small, dim, hazy patch, much easier to see with binoculars. This is the Andromeda Galaxy, over 2.5 million LIGHT YEARS away and basically the farthest thing you can see with eyes alone.
Without ever leaving your yard, you have traveled from planet Earth, to a galaxy, by just turning your head.
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Keep looking up!