Sunrise in Flagstaff

It’s 5:00 am and I’m up ungodly early to photograph the sunrise for a school assignment. So I figured I’d blog about it. Because, why not?

4:50: Okay, I’m up. Why do I have to be up so freaking early again?

5:00: Dressed. I can see the sunrise from a spot about twenty minutes away. Do I really have to get moving now?

(Unfortunately, yes. Because my brain is absolutely useless for anything but the prearranged plan. Working on homework sounds atrocious.)

5:19: Almost to my lookout point. Thank goodness there is little to no traffic. I really don’t feel like being run over because I didn’t have the brain space to remember the rules of the road…

5:21: At the parking garage. I’ll have a view of the horizon from the roof. But why does a multistory building need all these stairs…?

5:24: Up six flights of stairs, and I’m on the roof. Sunrise isn’t till 6:02. But my god, the horizon is beautiful…

For me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime sight, like a solar eclipse. I will never be up this early again if I can help it, so I’m going to appreciate the view while I’m here.

Well. Sunrise isn’t for another half-hour. I’ll check back in when the sun peeks over the horizon… Continue reading

The Ecliptic

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The ecliptic, as astronomers call it, is the apparent path of the sun against the background of the stars in the sky.

It’s useful because it tells us how to find the planets in the sky. They can be hard to spot if you don’t know where to look, but they will always be somewhere along one imaginary line that arcs across the sky—the ecliptic.

This pattern never changes. The planets don’t follow the ecliptic exactly, but it’s useful for getting an idea of where they should be.

But why does it work—and what exactly does it mean, when it’s obvious we can’t see the sun among the stars of the night sky? Continue reading

The Celestial Sphere

celestial-sphere

The celestial sphere is certainly a strange way to think about the night sky.

It makes sense to use globes to diagram the Earth. The Earth, after all, is a roughly spherical planet, and flat paper maps have a way of distorting distances.

The sky, though? Seriously? I mean, we all know the universe isn’t exactly a defined sphere that barely extends past Earth’s surface, right?

I mean, this model—the “celestial sphere”—even tries to claim that all the stars sit on the plane of the sphere like thumbtacks on a ceiling. And that the planets in the solar system follow regular paths around this odd-looking sphere.

Pretty strange way to think about the night sky, right?

Well…I have to say, astronomers do have a point. Continue reading