So tonight or the next night you have time, you get to see the “marshaled starry host” for yourself if you follow the simple instructions here. Feel free to copy them and the drawing that helps show what to do. First, however, get excited about the depth and width of the power of our God. Many scriptures talk about his direct hand in creation, which is entirely contrary to the popular conjecture that they get organized and displayed to us all by themselves. This verse includes both observer (us) and the heavens (starry hosts) together. Visit Isaiah 45:12 with me that says, “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry host.”
So what example shall we see this evening? The Milky Way (our own galaxy) is the most dominant example of His gathered stars in the heavens, and it is easily seen with the naked eye. When my wife and I have been in Uganda in very dark places in the country, the Milky Way provides so much light that it actually casts a shadow under trees. With dense population centers, however, it is much harder to see through the light pollution. When you do this lesson, therefore, try to be in a dark place, let your eyes get adjusted to the dark, have a sketch pad handy, carry a little red LED light or red-covered small flashlight, and let’s see then record part of the Milky Way.
I am presuming you may have not done this before. If you have, this little exercise is great for children and grandchildren as well as newbies to the heavens. It is applicable for the next couple months in the mid-evening. Review the sketch below first, which I did last night through a brief period of clear skies:
See the little observer at the bottom with hands raised? That was me last night. Now it is you. See the horizon with the trees and hills? Yours may be different but it’s called the same thing. See the big fat line up from the center that has “S” for south? That is the first step you want to do. Let us go to the steps…
1. Find Polaris or the North Star and put a rope on the ground that lines up with it. (Review the first part of lesson 4 in the June archives if you need some reminders about this.) Go to the opposite end and turn around and you are facing celestial south. If you cannot find it, just use a plain compass and put a rope on the ground that lines up with south. That will be close enough.
2. Stand at the end of that rope or line facing south … with your eyes adapted. You want to do this at least an hour after sunset. For me in late July, 9 pm Eastern Standard Time is good. Since we are on daylight time, its about 10 pm local time. You don’t have to be exact.
3. For typical mid latitudes (if you live from 30 to 45 degrees latitude), find the most prominent star, which is also red-orange, a little to the right of south that is about 3 fists or one outstretched hand and a fist up from your local horizon. (Remember: we measure angles with an outstretched arm and hand, where an outstretched hand is about 20 degrees and a fist is about 10 degrees). The further south you live, the higher the star is; the further north, the lower it is. But the star is pretty bright and its orange tint gives it away. It is called Antares. To its right are 3 stars lined up vertically but tilted to the right a little bit. (If you visit my friends near the equator in the Philippines or Uganda, Antares will be really high in the sky and slightly to the west.)
4. Now you can measure the angle from your south pointing line (as if it extended into the sky) to Antares by using your outstretched hand. Measure the same distance (angle) to the LEFT of the south line and up from horizon about the same distance. See the sketch. X marks the spot, which is the center of an arrangement of stars called Sagittarius (or commonly called the Tea Pot).
5. The dense part (and approximate center) of our galaxy is just to the right of Sagittarius. And, locate the trail of the Milky Way from the horizon, up to the left, and past your left shoulder, where it will be high. (You can see how I marked it with black smudge trail on my sketch.)
I put in a couple of angles for reference on the sketch. Where south meets the horizon you can imagine a line that goes up 45 degrees (half way over from a vertical line) and you will run into Antares. The Milky Way follows the same approximate line up to the left, and I have drawn the Milky Way as I saw it. I tried to measure the angles and came up with 40 degrees on the right and 60 degrees on the left, but you don’t have to be precise.
Remember sky motion. Every hour the southern sky rotates to the right (actually we rotate, but we covered that before in another lesson). So by the time you get to late August, the same sky will be rotated 15 degrees to the right if you observe at the same time you did this night.
Now if you have a planisphere and set if for your local standard time (minus one hour if you are on daylight time) and date, you will see the Milky Way drawn in the same approximate position that you have just seen it for yourself. The Chandler planisphere is really nice because one side is used for facing south and one side for facing north. This reduces distortion. The Milky Way’s position is marked in light blue on each side.
Now it’s time to set back and enjoy the sight, and what a sight it is. The Milky Way looks like a faint cloud, but the more you look at it, the more you notice brighter spots, a few dark areas, and smudges of things (seen better in a binocular). Truly it is beautiful, and a wonderful picture of God’s intense power as he marshaled this particular group of stars around earth in such a way that it is so prominent. Enjoy. To finish the night, try to do a sketch like I did to record your observation. If its children you are teaching, get them to sign it and make a big deal over their accomplishment. They have just identified and “mapped” part of their own galaxy!!
Next lesson…let’s find something in the Milky Way.