Depending on where you live, you could see dozens or hundreds of stars if you step outside on a clear night. If your timing is right, you might also see the Moon or up to four of the planets. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a shooting star as it burns a path through the atmosphere. Below are just a few of the objects you can see with the naked eye.

Because the Sun is the closest star to the Earth, it appears large and very bright. But it’s never safe to look directly at the Sun, because doing so can damage your eyes.

The Moon, our closest neighbor in space, orbits the Earth and is the brightest object in the nighttime sky. Its various phases can be seen at different times of the month; however, when the Moon is full, its glare can obscure your view of many fainter stars and celestial objects.

Because the Sun is critical to life on Earth, it has played an important role in the cultural beliefs of indigenous peoples for centuries. Some Indigenous Australians see the Sun as a giant emu egg!

The Moon is another important player in indigenous stories. Sometimes it is featured alone, as a Moon Man, as in Anishinabe cultures of C Read More
Depending on where you live, you could see dozens or hundreds of stars if you step outside on a clear night. If your timing is right, you might also see the Moon or up to four of the planets. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a shooting star as it burns a path through the atmosphere. Below are just a few of the objects you can see with the naked eye.

Because the Sun is the closest star to the Earth, it appears large and very bright. But it’s never safe to look directly at the Sun, because doing so can damage your eyes.

The Moon, our closest neighbor in space, orbits the Earth and is the brightest object in the nighttime sky. Its various phases can be seen at different times of the month; however, when the Moon is full, its glare can obscure your view of many fainter stars and celestial objects.

Because the Sun is critical to life on Earth, it has played an important role in the cultural beliefs of indigenous peoples for centuries. Some Indigenous Australians see the Sun as a giant emu egg!

The Moon is another important player in indigenous stories. Sometimes it is featured alone, as a Moon Man, as in Anishinabe cultures of Central North America. Sometimes the Moon appears with the Sun as part of a larger group of Sky Beings, as in the Blackfoot culture of the North American Plains.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Saturn

The rings of Saturn.

NASA / JPL

© NASA / JPL


The Sun

The Sun.

NASA / Extreme UV Imaging Consortium

© NASA / Extreme UV Imaging Consortium


Get instructions to build a solar viewer to safely watch an eclipse of the Sun at:

http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Cosmos/pdfs/sun-en.pdf

Get instructions to build a solar viewer to safely watch an eclipse of the Sun at:

http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Cosmos/pdfs/sun-en.pdf


© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Four of the planets are bright enough to see easily with the naked eye: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Mercury and Uranus are harder to see. Neptune appears like a small blue dot in binoculars, while Pluto looks like a very faint star even in large telescopes. Your local newspaper may be able to tell you when the planets are visible in your area, or you can check with a local planetarium or observatory.

Stars Twinkle, Planets Don’t

How can you tell a star from a planet? A simple way is to watch for twinkling. Twinkling happens when atmospheric turbulence distorts starlight. Because stars are far away, they look like points of light. Planets are closer, so they look like tiny disks. Atmospheric turbulence affects points of light more than disks, so stars twinkle and planets don’t. This method works most of the time.
Four of the planets are bright enough to see easily with the naked eye: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Mercury and Uranus are harder to see. Neptune appears like a small blue dot in binoculars, while Pluto looks like a very faint star even in large telescopes. Your local newspaper may be able to tell you when the planets are visible in your area, or you can check with a local planetarium or observatory.

Stars Twinkle, Planets Don’t

How can you tell a star from a planet? A simple way is to watch for twinkling. Twinkling happens when atmospheric turbulence distorts starlight. Because stars are far away, they look like points of light. Planets are closer, so they look like tiny disks. Atmospheric turbulence affects points of light more than disks, so stars twinkle and planets don’t. This method works most of the time.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Chris Hadfield

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on the outside of the International Space Station, just below the Canadarm2, during a mission in May 2001.

NASA
May, 2001
© NASA


Under ideal conditions, about 3 000 stars are visible to the naked eye, and if you’re far from artificial lights, you can see a hazy band of light that stretches across the sky. What you’re looking at is the flat edge of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, seen from the inside out.

Cheepahi Meskanaw (Cree) is translated into English as the Spirit Road. This is the path marked across the sky by the Milky Way galaxy when it is turned westward. According to traditional beliefs, the spirit of a person who dies on Earth ascends into the star world, then dances along this path to the place of eternal happiness in the West, beyond the setting Sun. In the Anishinabe language, the Milky Way is called Binessiwi Mekuna, the Bird’s Path. In autumn, when it points South, the birds follow it. In spring, it turns North and the birds follow it back again. The Milky Way is considered a wolf trail or a river by different indigenous cultures.
Under ideal conditions, about 3 000 stars are visible to the naked eye, and if you’re far from artificial lights, you can see a hazy band of light that stretches across the sky. What you’re looking at is the flat edge of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, seen from the inside out.

Cheepahi Meskanaw (Cree) is translated into English as the Spirit Road. This is the path marked across the sky by the Milky Way galaxy when it is turned westward. According to traditional beliefs, the spirit of a person who dies on Earth ascends into the star world, then dances along this path to the place of eternal happiness in the West, beyond the setting Sun. In the Anishinabe language, the Milky Way is called Binessiwi Mekuna, the Bird’s Path. In autumn, when it points South, the birds follow it. In spring, it turns North and the birds follow it back again. The Milky Way is considered a wolf trail or a river by different indigenous cultures.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

The aurora is a ghostly glow in the nighttime sky. In the northern hemisphere, you might see the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), while in the southern hemisphere, you'd see the Aurora Australis (southern lights). Most auroras are blue-green, but sometimes they have shades of red, yellow and violet. They often look like arcs that stretch across the horizon, or like tall billowing curtains.

Auroras happen when particles from the Sun stream across space-this phenomenon is called the solar wind. Some of these particles converge at the Earth's north and south magnetic poles. When they enter the Earth's upper atmosphere, their electrical charges make the air glow like a neon light.

If you live above a mid-northern latitute, or below a mid-southern latitute, you can see auroras almost any night. People closer to the equator have to wait until times of peak solar activity, when the Sun sends more particles towards the Earth. At these times, the auroras move closer to the equator, where people who can't usually see them get a spectacular show.

According to traditional Aboriginal beliefs, the Northern Lights are the Spirits dancing as they proceed west Read More
The aurora is a ghostly glow in the nighttime sky. In the northern hemisphere, you might see the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), while in the southern hemisphere, you'd see the Aurora Australis (southern lights). Most auroras are blue-green, but sometimes they have shades of red, yellow and violet. They often look like arcs that stretch across the horizon, or like tall billowing curtains.

Auroras happen when particles from the Sun stream across space-this phenomenon is called the solar wind. Some of these particles converge at the Earth's north and south magnetic poles. When they enter the Earth's upper atmosphere, their electrical charges make the air glow like a neon light.

If you live above a mid-northern latitute, or below a mid-southern latitute, you can see auroras almost any night. People closer to the equator have to wait until times of peak solar activity, when the Sun sends more particles towards the Earth. At these times, the auroras move closer to the equator, where people who can't usually see them get a spectacular show.

According to traditional Aboriginal beliefs, the Northern Lights are the Spirits dancing as they proceed westward through the star world to their final destination. Cheepayak Nemitowak (Cree) is translated into English as The Spirts Dancing. This phenomenon is called Wawatay in the Anishinabe language. In the English language this phenomenon is called the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Northern Lights

The northern lights.

NASA

© NASA


Aurora Borealis

This image taken by the Viking Satellite shows the aurora borealis over the North Pole.

National Research Council - Herzberg Institute of Astrophysiques

© NRC-HIA


Hold your thumb at arm’s length against the night sky. Your thumbnail covers 2 million of the Universe’s 100 billion galaxies, but it’s hard to see a galaxy with your naked eye. In the northern hemisphere, you can barely see the Andromeda Galaxy in the constellation Andromeda.

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere can pick out the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. For some Indigenous Australians, these two galaxies are the camps of an old man and woman.
Hold your thumb at arm’s length against the night sky. Your thumbnail covers 2 million of the Universe’s 100 billion galaxies, but it’s hard to see a galaxy with your naked eye. In the northern hemisphere, you can barely see the Andromeda Galaxy in the constellation Andromeda.

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere can pick out the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. For some Indigenous Australians, these two galaxies are the camps of an old man and woman.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Magellanic Clouds

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are the closest galaxies to us.

William C. Keel, University of Alabama

© William C. Keel, University of Alabama


On any clear night, if you stand outside long enough you're bound to see a shooting star. Shooting stars aren't really stars, they're meteors-tiny bits of dust and rock-plunging through our atmosphere. As meteors fall, friction consumes them in a fiery glow.

When the Earth passes through a comet's tail, hundreds of meteors may streak across the sky. Every August 12 and13, Comet Swift-Tuttle's tail provides a stunning light show-the Perseid meteor shower. The shower appears to flow from the constellation Perseus, which is visible in the northern hemisphere.
On any clear night, if you stand outside long enough you're bound to see a shooting star. Shooting stars aren't really stars, they're meteors-tiny bits of dust and rock-plunging through our atmosphere. As meteors fall, friction consumes them in a fiery glow.

When the Earth passes through a comet's tail, hundreds of meteors may streak across the sky. Every August 12 and13, Comet Swift-Tuttle's tail provides a stunning light show-the Perseid meteor shower. The shower appears to flow from the constellation Perseus, which is visible in the northern hemisphere.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Comet Swift-Tuttle

Comet Swift-Tuttle is responsible for the Perseid meteor shower. It was last seen in 1992 and won't return again until 2126.

Chris Cook
1992
Chris Cook © 1992


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Develop enthusiasm and continuing interest in the study of science
  • Describe how our perspective from the Earth affects what we see in the night sky
  • Appreciate the importance of astronomy to indigenous peoples
  • Describe the phenomena of auroras, shooting stars, and the twinkling of stars and relate them to their physical causes

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