The Friday Fillip

dipper.pngGiven that the majority of Canadians live in urban settings, it may that most children have never seen the stars; and in time most of the population will be included in that unfortunate group. Oh, sure, Venus and the moon and one or two other very bright objects may peep through the bruise of the night sky, but the full glory of heavens is lost to us in cities and towns because of light pollution.

Technology can help — by showing us what we’re missing and intriguing us with science and mythology, so that we’ll be more likely to head out where it’s dark and look up. A truly marvelous tool in this mission is Stellarium. It’s a powerful, free planetarium tool that runs on your computer, whether under Windows, Mac or Linux. With it you can see the night sky for any location and any date and time you give it. You can see what you can’t really see, either in real time or in accelerated time, so that you understand how things whirl around above us. You can cause Stellarium to map out the constellations for you, and, if it puzzles you as it does me how Ursa Major is a bear, the program will impose a graphic of the thing upon the constellation so that it… comes close to making sense.

Stellarium comes with 600,000 stars. (I love saying that.) But if that doesn’t populate the firmament enough for you, you can download extra catalogues until your welkin boasts 210 million stars.

I’ve only touched the surface of this marvel. It is complex — there’s a user’s manual, which is always a tad worrisome — but I can promise you that even whacking away on this and that button wholly innocent of true knowledge can cause you to rediscover wonder and even to gasp.

You won’t forget, though, that Stellarium is merely the trailer for the main event. The show is there, overhead. Every single night. We only have to turn off (all) our TV’s to see it.

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