How to give a celebrity speech

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For those familiar with the night sky, it is possible to share this knowledge and appreciation of the sky with others by giving a talk on the stars. I have done this on numerous occasions. From campsites and beaches to mountain tops and offshore ships, the general public has always been captivated by what is “up there”. And if you are a sky-watching enthusiast, you too might want to try and share your knowledge with others.

So how exactly do you go about giving a celebrity talk? One of the most useful approaches, which also applies to live planetarium presentations, was pointed out by one of my astronomy mentors, Fred C. Hess, a long-time associate astronomer at Hayden Planetarium in New York City. . He stressed that a speaker “should never lecture an audience; instead, they should try to tell a story. The best storytellers make the best teachers! If you can tell a good story, you will be in. able to hold the attention of the group you are speaking to. ”

Another great piece of advice came to me from George Lovi, who for many years wrote the column “Rambling through the Skies” in Sky & Telescope magazine: “Talk as you would to two or three friends at a dinner table. lunch, sharing with them your own enthusiasm of appreciation and discovery. ”

The night sky is rich with a number of different celestial objects which can be described in an understandable way for neophytes in order to increase their cosmic awareness.

Related: The brightest planets in the night sky – how to see them (and when)

Heavenly disappointment

Looking high into the evening sky on these balmy nights, you can notice that all the stars we see are distant suns; of these, virtually all that are visible to the naked eye are larger, brighter, and more massive than our own sun – in some cases enormously, as is the case with Deneb, currently positioned high in the eastern sky. Deneb marks a corner of the famous Summer Triangle, a star pattern that is not a constellation but is actually made up of the three brightest stars from three separate constellations. The brightest of the three is bluish Vega in the constellation Lyra, which shines almost directly above. Further south is the yellow-white Altair, in Aquila. Deneb marks the tail feathers of Cygnus.

At first glance, Vega appears to be the most dazzling of the three, registering more than three times as much brightness as Deneb. Yet appearances can be deceptive: Deneb is about 200,000 times brighter than the sun and is so far away that its light takes about 2,600 years to reach us. Vega, on the other hand, is only 1 / 5,000 as bright as Deneb and appears to be so bright in the sky because she is about 100 times closer to us than Deneb is.

And when you mention it, be sure to point out that the unit of distance is the light year, and insist that it represents distance, no time.

Stellar statistics, such as distances, never fail to intrigue. When you quote the fact that sunlight takes only eight minutes – traveling at 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) per minute – to reach us, cosmic mega-distances become more than just a bunch of zeros, they come to life! And yet, the stars that make up the images of the sky that we call constellations are just neighbors to the billions of others that make up our home galaxy.

Cloud against nature … it’s the Milky Way

The Milky Way sparkles above Yellowstone National Park in this starry sky photo by Chirag Upreti. This panorama combines 10 images captured from the “Mound and Jupiter Terrace” at Mammoth Hot Springs, and it offers an excellent view of the planet Jupiter, shining to the right of the Milky Way galaxy while reflecting off the water surface here. below. Saturn is also visible in the photo, shining to the left of the Milky Way, just above the asterism known as the Teapot. (Image credit: Chirag Upreti)

If you are lucky enough to have a truly dark site, the splendid Milky Way will cross the sky from northeast to southwest, being particularly prominent towards the south. Explain to your audience that this ghostly band of light is the result of observing the combined light of most of the stars that belong to our galaxy. Point out that every star that our eyes can see is part of our star system, our home in the universe. But because we are integrated into it, when we look towards the Milky Way, we look along the plane of the flattened galactic system of which we are a part. And without the large amounts of interstellar dust and gas obscuring our view of more distant stars, this band would appear even brighter, especially in the area around the constellation Sagittarius, which is towards the center of the Milky Way.

This, incidentally, is reminiscent of an incident that occurred before dawn on January 17, 1994, when a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the densely populated San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. With its epicenter located about 20 miles west-northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the Northridge earthquake was the third major earthquake to occur in California in 23 years. Occurring at 4:31 a.m. PT, the powerful shaking cut the power and caused people to leave their homes and take to the dark streets. Looking skyward, many saw a “giant silver cloud” arch over the Los Angeles metro area, causing a flood of phone calls to Griffith Observatory from people who were apparently in panic at the sight of it. ‘a night sky dotted with countless stars, as well as their very first sight of the Milky Way in all its unpolluted glory.

The incident is perhaps a sad commentary on one of the ways “progress” hinders our appreciation of the night sky.

Book of stories in the sky

When describing the current sky, it is always effective to introduce major constellations and star patterns, such as the Summer Triangle, as useful celestial landmarks. Here you can immerse yourself in very rich and ancient mythological stories.

For example, located just west (right) of Sagittarius is the constellation Scorpio, by far the most magnificent of the zodiacal constellations, but the animal it represents is a frightening crawl; a creature that is rather small and unimpressive. The scorpion falls into the taxonomic category of arthropods (“jointed legs”), which is by far the largest subdivision of the animal kingdom. The splendid pattern of stars composing this celestial scorpion indeed suggests the curved stinger of the dreaded arachnid, which in mythology was responsible for the death of Orion the mighty hunter. Appropriately, these two constellations have been placed in opposite parts of the sky, and from northern latitudes they can never be seen at the same time.

Tell your audience that while the study of constellations is not part of the science of astronomy as such – contrary to popular belief – models are still a convenient way, even for professionals, to learn. refer to areas of the sky. Moreover, as far as astronomy is concerned today, constellations are recognized to be nothing more than arbitrary divisions in the sky, in the same way that counties and states divide land masses.

Don’t forget the moon and the planets

Of course, the moon will generate considerable interest if you use a telescope, but be aware that you should schedule your night sky session around its best viewing periods, which range from the first quarter (“half-phase”) to around three. or four days beyond. It is then, when examining the line between light and dark (called the “terminator”) that the lunar features are heavily shaded and stand out in sharp relief. In contrast, a full moon appears flat and one-dimensional, and its dazzling glow will cause you to squint after just a few seconds.

At this time of year, we are also fortunate to have two of the best planets for telescopic study, ideally placed for evening viewing. Saturn, the ringed wonder of the solar system, is low in the east-southeast at evening twilight, but has risen a reasonable height above the horizon around 9 p.m. local time. Its famous ring system – as well as its largest satellite, Titan – are within range of any telescope with a magnification of 30 times or more. For those who have never had the pleasure of seeing rings, their first sight is usually accompanied by exclamations such as “No way”, “Awesome” or even “This can’t be real, is it. ? ”

Far east of Saturn (left) is Jupiter, the much brighter king of the solar system. A good telescope will show its large disc traversed by bands of dark clouds and accompanied by the famous Galilean satellites, named after Galileo Galilei, who made extensive observations with his coarse telescope in 1610. Both planets will be easily accessible for observation. nocturnal well in the fall and even the beginning of winter.

Your pointer (but be careful!)

Finally, to denote different objects in the sky, many prefer to use laser pointers. By reflecting off dust and airborne particles in the atmosphere, a green laser provides an adequate pointer beam, allowing the user to trace constellations and faint objects.

You’re probably fine with a 5 milliwatt (mW) laser, as long as you don’t point it at a passing airplane; if a laser is pointed at an aircraft and enters the cockpit, it has the potential to blind pilots. When President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, he made it a federal crime to project a laser beam onto or into the flight path of an airplane. Also, do not point the laser at someone’s eyes; serious problems can occur if the retina is damaged. Laser pointers can emit between 1 and 5 mW of power, which is enough to damage the retina after 10 seconds of exposure. This can lead to permanent vision loss.

Another, much safer option is to use a three-cell flashlight fitted with a krypton bulb, which can project a bright (albeit wider) beam of light into the sky.

Joe Rao is an instructor and guest speaker at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes on astronomy for Journal of natural history, the Farmers Almanac and other publications. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.



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