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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: October 2009

Foreword

Summary

The stars are presented to you here as you'll come to know them in the heavens, one by one and in easily identified patterns, as they appear with satisfying orderliness in the course of a single year. The earliest skywatchers must have come to know the stars in just this way, constellation after constellation, with each celestial grouping identified with the sights, smells and sounds of the changing seasons.

Today, we know the stars move across the sky's dome each night because Earth spins on its axis once a day. We know that new stars continually appear in the east because our vantage point on the Galaxy shifts, as we orbit the Sun once a year. Skywatchers now have the power to see the stars — with ordinary binoculars, or sophisticated telescopes and photographic equipment — in ways that would have astounded our ancestors. Our cosmology has taken us out of the center of everything, and made us inconceivably small in contrast with the rest of the universe. We live in a universe of mind-boggling collisions, explosions, and energies. And yet, in a way that binds us to the first skywatchers, the stars still seem a part of us, and we a part of them.

Even in our modern world, where lights of the cities often obscure the stars, it seems that nearly everyone has a ‘gene’ for astronomy. Thus to those of us already acquainted with astronomy, there is only one pleasure greater than skywatching, and that is to encourage someone else to look up!