You don’t need a Thirty Meter Telescope to look at the stars, all you need is a lounge chair and a clear night sky.
The Kona night sky is dazzling! It puts on a fantastic show every evening for free. I must mention it’s a re-run, it’s been playing on Earth for about 5 billion years. Some flickering light you see up there is now just getting here after traveling 5 billion years.
But in the stars you can find new friends. You can also get directions, be thrilled by blazing meteors, see UFOs, and use the sky to impress a lady on an inexpensive date. A bottle of wine under the stars will set you back $5.99, you can’t beat it.
But to fully enjoy the big night show you need a program, and once you know the players you’re ready for the curtain to rise every night. All you need is about 10 star facts and you can impress your friends around the campfire, or that girl on your date.
First, the biggie, is how to find the North Star. Trust me, this is how.
Nowadays — or Nowanights in Kona — look up in the direction of Hapuna and you will see the Big Dipper. It is hanging down with a long handle attached to a pan at the bottom. Look for the two stars that are the bottom lip of the pan — they point directly (3 sky inches) to the North Star. You can barely see it, the famous star is very modest, but that’s it. You can find south, west and east from there.
Next you have to know the “Big Three” planets, Venus, Jupiter and Mars. Next to the moon, they are the brightest lights in the sky. Mars is easy, it’s the bright one with a tinge of red. Kind of like a red Christmas light.
Next is Venus, it’s almost as bright as Jupiter, but the clue is that Venus is that bright star you see on the horizon at sunset and at dawn. The Evening Star and Morning Star, remember? It kind of fades off-stage and dims a little after sunset.
Sometimes Venus is so big and bright at dawn that people have freaked out and called police departments thinking it’s a flying saucer!
But sometimes it really is a flying saucer.
Then there’s Jupiter. Just look for the biggest, brightest light bulb in the night sky, that’s Jupiter. Venus is bright but Jupiter is the brightest planet.
And next are the big-time constellations, that is, the ones that actually look like something and not just a bunch of stars.
You can’t miss Orion, it looks like a man in the sky. You’ll see his belt of three stars and then look up and see his shoulders and his legs below.
Next find a big W in the sky, that’s the couch where Queen Cassiopeia is lounging.
Then there’s Scorpio. It looks like a gigantic fishhook stretching down, taking up about ¼ of the night sky, it’s the scorpion’s tail. Right behind the bottom of the tail is a small bow with a criss-crossing arrow aiming forever at the Scorpion’s tail. That’s Sagittarius, my sign, by the way.
My personal favorite is the Southern Star. At times look south and you will see a perfect cross in the sky. It’s amazing. There’s a star at the top, bottom and to the sides.
So tonight get some popcorn, sit back in your lounge chair and enjoy the night show.
Dennis Gregory writes a bimonthly column in West Hawaii Today and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org