Friday, January 4, 2019

Seeing Orion Through the Clouds

Last night I went outside to put the week's recyclables out on the curb, and happened to look up (I usually do). Nothing but clouds, clouds, clouds everywhere, right down to the horizon. But wait! Straight ahead of me I could see a dim red beacon visible despite the gray ceiling - Mars. That cheered me up a bit, and I started looking around to see if anything else had managed to batter its way through the cloud cover.

Ahh.. There was one bright star in the east, and at first I thought I was seeing Sirius. But then golden Betelgeuse popped out to its left, and I realized I had been looking at Rigel. Once I had my celestial geography (that can't possibly be the right term) nailed down, I managed to make out Orion's belt halfway between that constellation's two brightest stars.

Further afield, I could see Capella drifting in and out of denser cloud patches. A kind of "Now you see it, now you don't" sort of thing. But other than that, nothing. Unrelieved gray wherever I looked. It hit me that, in the ages before light pollution, all that gray would have been the blackest black imaginable, and what few stars I could make out would have stood out all the more due to the greater contrast.

I wasn't ready to go straight back indoors, so I amused myself by trying to figure out what was where above all those clouds. Let's see now, Gemini ought to be right there, and the Pleiades somewhere over there. Maybe I could see Aldebaran? Nah, no such luck.

After 10 minutes or so of the most pathetic one-man impromptu star party ever, I decided to declare victory and head back indoors. But even so, I did see the stars... six of them. (And thousands of them in my mind's eye.) And one planet.

Better than nothing, I guess.