SKYWATCHING….Kieran Healy writes today that due to Ireland’s cloudy nature, he didn’t really appreciate that the Milky Way truly existed until he moved to Arizona. He links to the picture at right as proof of what the Arizona night sky can do to restore your faith in astronomy.

That’s a familiar story for me too, though light pollution was the cause, not clouds. As a child I was fascinated by constellations (as are most children) and often asked my father to point them out. But I just never got it. Those three stars are Orion’s belt? OK, but where’s the rest of Orion? I think I spent most of my childhood under the impression that I just wasn’t trying hard enough, or that perhaps my vision was somehow defective.

Then when I was about ten or eleven we took a camping trip to Yosemite. And guess what? The sky was chock full of stars! I finally got it.

That was pretty much the end of it, though. I’m not much for camping, and I continue to live in light polluted Orange County, so I’ve never learned much of anything about the constellations. It doesn’t take much light to ruin things, either. A few years ago I tried some skywatching in a cruise ship out at sea, but even then I couldn’t find a spot on deck light-free enough to really make a difference. (We were in Tahiti and I was trying to spy the Southern Cross. I think I did.)

But if you like pretty pictures (and I do), I highly recommend The Invisible Universe, by David Malin. Used copies are suprisingly inexpensive and the photos are stunning.