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Stars were out at the Coupeville Library
“How many stars do you see in the middle of the handle?” asked Richard Everett, a member of the Island County Astronomical Society, as he pointed to the Big Dipper with a crowd of people gathering around him.
According to Everett, legend has it that Alexander the Great would test his soldiers by asking them how many stars make up the point in the middle of the handle of the Big Dipper.
“If they could see two, they could be in his army,” Everett said.
Everett and other members of the astronomy group led a stargazing event at the Coupeville Library Monday night. The evening event lasted until about 11 p.m. and was the second of two teen stargazing events at the library Monday.
At the earlier event at 1 p.m., Everett taught a class of seven teens about astronomy and the smart-phone apps they can use to see the night sky. Everett himself has about 40 astronomy-related apps, some he paid for and some he got free.
“In my whole life, no one knew anything about the back side of the moon,” Everett said. “Now there’s an app for that.”
Everett used the “Convert Units” free app to show that one light year (a common unit used to measure distance in astronomy) is 5.878625 x10^12 miles. That’s about 6 trillion miles.
He also showed the teenagers NASA apps and apps that show light pollution, the moon and the sun.
Everett talked with the kids about different galaxies.
“I heard the Milky Way galaxy might merge with the Andromeda galaxy,” a girl at the front of the room said.
She was right. Everett said there are about 300 billion galaxies and that it has been predicted that the Andromeda galaxy will collide with our Milky Way. But this won’t happen for billions of years.
At the evening event, Everett said he knew the teens at the afternoon event were into astronomy because of how much they knew.
“When someone knows about Crab Nebulas … yeah,” Everett said, trailing off.
Out of the about 10 people who came to the night stargazing event, only one, Dustin Scharwat of Coupeville, was a teenager.
Dustin’s mother, Paula, said she and her husband went to one of the “star parties” that the astronomy group hosts before she had children. She saw Saturn that night and has been hooked on astronomy since.
When Dustin was about 8, she brought him to an astronomy event, but he was too young. Now, she said, he’s more interested and can understand more of what’s going on.
Paula and the other stargazers saw Saturn again Monday night.
“Isn’t that cool?” said Ruth Nielson as she looked through her telescope and saw the ringer planet. “Especially when you’re used to gluing the rings on at school.”
Nielson is a member of the astronomy group and Friend sof the Coupeville Library.
Ruth and Andy Nielson brought a telescope kit, which costs about $500 and includes two eyepieces, a Dobsonian mounted telescope, a stand and a “finderscope” that allowed gazers to see Saturn.
The attendees also got to see Polaris — AKA the North Star — Mars, Vega, Spica and Arcturus.
Dan Pullen, a founding member of the astronomy group, brought his telescope. His telescope was an Orion, one of three brands the astronomers agreed was top-notch.
“One of the misconceptions of astronomy is that you can see more with greater magnification,” Everett said. He explained that the focal length of the telescope and eye piece are more crucial in getting bigger, clearer images of the stars and other stuff in the sky.
“That (more magnification) might be good on Mars, where you have less atmosphere,” Everett said as the rest of the astronomers who understood the joke laughed.
Everett said that for people who are starting out, binoculars are much less expensive and still work pretty well.
As the gazers pointed toward a star in the horizon, seemingly lower to the ground, Andy Nielson explained why it looked like it was twinkling.
“It’s flashing because it’s down in the mush,” he said. “We’re looking through miles of atmosphere.”
But if you look straight up instead of out into the distance, the stars are clearer because there is less atmosphere, or mush, to look through.
Kate Poss, the new teen contact at the library, said she loves bringing people out there and getting them to look at the night sky.
“It kind of opens their mind, in a way,” she said. “I feel lucky to see this.”
At the end of the event, a double star called Albireo was also visible.
“I’m trying to find Albireo,” Pullen said as he crouched next to his telescope and adjusted the eyepiece.
As it turns out, Albireo looks as though it’s one star if you’re looking up without a telescope. But when you look through the eyepiece, two stars appear. They are bound together by their mutual gravitational attraction.
This is common for stars. The solitary sun is somewhat unusual among the heavenly bodies of the universe.