Four hundred years ago (actually in 1609), Galileo gazed up into the night sky with a new invention called the telescope. He was the first person do this and to record his observations.

Now, by today’s standards, it really was not much of a telescope. All the same, he observed and recorded an amazing amount of detail and information.

First off, there were more stars visible in the telescope than there was to the unaided eye.

From the mountains and craters on the moon, to sunspots, there was a wealth of celestial objects to explore and discover. Jupiter and her moons were of particular interest and so was the planet Venus, which he discovered, had phases similar to our own moon.

Can you imagine the rush of excitement he must of felt? To be the first to discover these mysteries of the cosmos must have been an exhilarating experience.

To all amateur astronomers there is a defining moment when the wonders of the cosmos capture you. For some people, it is seeing craters on the moon in a telescope for the first time; for other people it is the rings of Saturn.

The defining moment for me was about 15 years ago, when I inherited an eight-inch telescope. The temperature was –30 degrees Celsius and I was alone out in the middle of Cousins’ airstrip, at 2 a.m. All I had was one medium power eyepiece, one chair, one star chart, one flashlight and one thermos of coffee.

When I first viewed Jupiter’s cloud belts and moons, I was in awe and wanting for more … much more. Yes, the image was small, but the detail was outstanding. Unbelievable, I was actually looking at another planet and I could see the moons.

Enter the International Year of Astronomy, which celebrates Galileo’s first look to the heavens using a telescope, some 400 years ago. This is an international program run by the United Nations to introduce people, especially children, to the wonders of the universe and to give them that true sense of awe and amazement.

There are outreach programs, lectures and special observing projects of all kinds all across Canada and the world.

Will the Yukon be part of all this?

There are a couple of ideas for the spring, when the sky is absolutely saturated with galaxies, nebulas and star clusters. For more information about the International Year of Astronomy and its programs, visit its website at [email protected]

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The other night, I was fortunate enough to get outside and do some galaxy hunting (trolling for fuzzies). The sky was dark and crystal clear, with the temperature a balmy –5 degrees Celsius.

Tonight’s target of interest is the Andromeda Galaxy and her two companion galaxies. This giant of a galaxy is 2.2 million light years distant and is the closest major galaxy to our own. It is also visible to the unaided eye and therefore makes it an easy target.

With my 30-year-old, eight-inch telescope being temperamental and difficult, I decided on using my little 80-mm Borg refractor. This is a very small telescope that has razor sharp optics designed for wide field or high power viewing.

Even at low power, Andromeda and her two satellite galaxies were easily visible. At medium power the view spilled over the eyepiece and the two companion galaxies were plain to see, with much finer detail. I sat and enjoyed the view for two hours, it was so pristine.

Before heading in for the evening, I thought it only prudent to observe the NGC7662 (the Blue Snowball). This little planetary nebula (often overlooked) is very tiny, but bright enough to be seen faintly through binoculars.

My trusty little Borg refractor was up to the job. At medium power, the nebula definitely presented a small round fuzzy circle. With a keen eye I was able to discern that it was not blue, but white with a green, hazy fringe.

The central star was also not visible with this little telescope, but it was still an amazing view.

With the coming of the International Year of Astronomy, I strongly encourage everyone to get involved. Grab a copy of Sky News and some binoculars, head outside and be prepared for an amazing evening.

Better yet, if you know someone who owns a telescope, ask to tag along, or beg, whatever is necessary. Just get out and see those amazing Yukon Night Skies.

Clear Skies, from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.

High Lights

Nov. 27 New Moon.

Nov. 30 The Moon, Venus and Jupiter make a nice pairing in the early evening sky.

Dec. 1 Jupiter, Venus, and the crescent Moon low in the western evening sky. Find a good vantage point, this is an excellent opportunity to photograph.

Dec. 3 Neptune and the crescent Moon are less than one degree apart this evening. Another amazing photo opportunity.

Dec. 5 First quarter Moon

Dec. 10 The Moon occults (passes in front of) the Pleiades Star Cluster. Happens after midnight.

Dec. 12 Full Moon.

Dec. 13 Geminid meteor shower. Poor show due to a nearly full Moon.

Dec. 19 Last quarter Moon.

Dec. 26 Venus and Neptune close together in the evening sky.

Dec. 27 New Moon.

Dec. 28 Mercury, Jupiter and a thin crescent Moon make an excellent grouping in the evening sky.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.