The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: His eyes are closed.
The night sky is forever an invitation to open our eyes. Astronomers look into space to look into the past. Perhaps we look up to look inward. Whatever the reason, here are some suggestions for ways to experience and share the wonder that's right overhead.
Bring everything a bit closer. Orion (www.telescope.com) offers telescopes to fit almost any budget. Orion's new StarBlast 4.5 EQ Reflector scope ($199) is good for adults and kids as a starter telescope and for an experienced amateur astronomer looking for portability. A great way to size up your needs and wants: The Seattle Astronomical Society (www.seattleastro.org) maintains a library of small- and medium-size telescopes that can be checked out for a month, and society volunteers are a great resource on many subjects. For more hands-on scrutiny, go to Captain's Telescopes & Binoculars (2500 15th Ave. W., 206- 283-7242); the Discovery Channel store in Bellevue Square (425-453-9160) or Alderwood Mall (3000 184th St. S.W., Space 312, Lynnwood, 425-774-1802), which offers the Rocket Telescope ($49.95), with a scope shaped like a rocket with 375x magnification; and local camera shops. For example, one of Kits Camera's best sellers is the Meade ETX-90AT Telescope with Autostar controller and tripod ($595; Kits Camera, 400 Pine St., Suite 300, 206-682-7760, www.kitscameras.com).
Now that it's possible to look and see, well, what is it?
Good astronomy starts at home. The newly published Washington Starwatch: An Essential Guide to Our Night Sky, by Mike Lynch, is available from Voyageur Press ($24.95; Voyageur Press, 729 Prospect Ave., P.O. Box 1, Osceola, WI 54020, 800-826-6600, www.voyageurpress.com). This guide to our slice of the heavens includes monthly star maps and information on the brightest objects in the skies above us. Lynch has led stargazing classes for more than 30 years, with the aim of making "the stars your old friends." His book also gives advice on telescopes and other equipment and a list of local astronomy resources.
The Millennium Star Atlas ($94.47, www.amazon.com) has more information than most of us would use in a lifetime: 1,548 sky charts in three volumes, showing the position of more than 100,000 stars.
A little less daunting is the Skygazers 2006 wall chart ($14.95, www.shopatsky.com). It shows by date when twilight ends, when the moon rises and sets, and which planets are visible. The Orion Star Target Planisphere ($9.95, www.telescopes.com) is excellent for beginners. Planispheres, or star wheels, are calibrated for your latitude. Dial in the date and time, and the chart will show the stars and constellations that are visible. Talk to the folks at Anacortes Telescope and Wild Bird (9973 Padilla Heights Rd., Anacortes, 360-588-9000, www.buytelescopes.com) for advice on the kind of locator you need. They also offer many National Geographic reference maps, including "The Heavens" ($19.99), which shows 2,844 stars that can be seen unaided, and all sorts of optics, accessories, references, and T-shirts and other must-haves for those who look skyward.
The Stellarscope Star Finder ($39; Flax Art & Design, 888-352-9278, www.flaxart.com) helps locate more than 42 major stars and 70 constellations.
Helpful books and magazines include An Intimate Look at the Night Sky by Chet Raymo (Walker & Company, $9), which reveals what is visible during each season, and Astronomy by Carole Stott (Kingfisher, $16.95), which will "take kids straight to the heart of space." Nonstop. Astronomy magazine (12 issues for $42.95; www.astronomy.com) will deliver spectacular photos, tips, articles, science reporting, monthly pullout star maps, news, and proof that astronomy is cool. It recently reported that a team led by Caltech's Michael Brown announced discovery of a moon orbiting the distant body 2003 UB313. The team gave 2003 UB313 the unofficial nickname of Xena, and its moon, Gabrielle. "Having a moon is just inherently cool—and it is something that most self-respecting planets have, so it is good to see that this one does, too," Brown tells the magazine.
Face it: There will be more cloudy nights than not in the Northwest, so plan for indoor astronomical excursions.
The whole family can play Cosmic Decoders ($12.95, www.shopatsky.com). The card game teaches basic celestial facts as the players try to build a galaxy. While you are playing, it would be fun to listen to The Planets CD by Holst ($18.98).
The Moons calendar from John F. Turner and Company ($11.99; 800-337-5723, jfturner.com) displays spectacular photos of the moon's different phases.
Be the first one on your block to sign up for a trip to the moon. Space Adventures, a private company, is planning a circumnavigation of the moon, tentatively in 2008. That gives you plenty of time to save for the $100 million fare.
The United States Postal Service (www.usps.com) recently issued a pane of 37-cent stamps featuring constellations such as Orion and Pegasus. The self- adhesive stamps are $7.40 for 20; the look on your loved one's face when you give them the stars: priceless.
Flying to the Moon?
Space travel just got a lot easier.
The new Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co., on Greenwood Avenue North near 85th Street North (www.greenwoodspacetravelsupply.com), has just about anything anyone would need for a comfortable voyage.
Among the items you can expect at the shop are new and used warp and ionic drives; antigravity, dark matter, and subatomic particles in bulk; documentation for intergalactic exploration; protective headgear; zero-G toiletries; and robot parts. Please note: Access to other dimensions is available by appointment.
All proceeds support 826 Seattle, a center dedicated to helping young people 6 to 18 develop strong writing and communication skills. It is a chapter of 826 National, founded by writer Dave Eggers (the original chapter is in San Francisco).