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Seeing stars

9:43 AM  Dec 29th, 2014
by Emma Jensen '16

As children, we’re taught to sing about twinkling little stars and wonder how they are; we learn to wish upon them; we hope to catch those that fall and put them in our pockets.

But what doesn’t often get included in these lessons is how to find the stars and their constellations. One University of Dayton class seeks to change that.

Andrea Massimilian ’14 took the stargazing class, taught by Brother Dan Klco, S.M. ’92, during her senior year. Today she is a first-year fellow in the Orr Entrepreneurial Fellowship program.

For those of us outside the classroom, here’s your own ticket to stardom.

1. Know when to be in or out. Klco structured his classes around three different scenarios based on cloud coverage. “If there was complete cloud coverage, we would be learning in the classroom about the night sky and constellations,” Massimilian recalled. “If there was partial visibility, we would be in the classroom for part of the time and then work with a telescope. On the nights where there was no cloud coverage, we would go to a farm about 40 minutes away and view parts of the solar system, like Jupiter and Mars.”

2. Take a field trip. The best way to view stars is away from the “Dayton bubble,” Klco says; the campus and city give off too much ambient light, preventing many stars from being seen. True stargazers find a dark area away from any lights like the farm where Klco takes his class. There are also other ways to view stars around Dayton. “We took a field trip to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery’s planetarium and got a private tour of the gigantic telescope there that is open to the public on Friday nights,” Massimilian said.

3. Know the constellations of the season. The constellations change from season to season based on the orbit of the Earth. “Most people know that in summer you see the Little Dipper and Big Dipper, but where are they in the winter?” Massimilian said. You can visit websites, like stardate.org, to look up what constellations can be found in each time of year.

4. Do not mistake your stars. The gospels of Luke and Matthew tell the story of the Nativity of Jesus. An important element of the story is the Star of Bethlehem, or Christmas Star, which guides the three Magi from the East to Jesus. They bless him with gifts and receive a divine warning to not return to Herod. It is not uncommon to hear people confuse the Star of Bethlehem with the North Star, which many people also associate with guiding slaves to freedom during the Civil War era. Since it is unlikely Jesus was born Dec. 25, it is hard to know what in the sky was the brightest the night he was born, she said.

5. Apps are your friends. Klco provided his students with several websites and apps for them to resource throughout the semester, like Star Chart and Night Sky Lite. They benefit users by helping them pinpoint constellations in the sky. “If you open the app on your phone and point the camera at the sky, the app will outline the constellations and identify them for you,” Massimilian said.

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