Looking At The Stars In Austin

It’s a long trip from Alaska to Austin, Texas, but my childhood friend had finally arrived. She had taken a ferry to Seattle and from there, she had purchased a car for a few hundred dollars and embarked on a swift summer swoop to the south. She and two friends she picked up along the way, one of which was a mutual hometown friend, pulled up beside my house one steamy August afternoon wearing only swimsuits, soaked in sweat and desperate for a shower. The car she purchased in Seattle didn’t have air conditioning. Austin saw over 70 consecutive days of 100+ degree weather and she happened to arrive during that scorching window.My house in Austin had been built in 1910 and without any insulation beneath the old floors we could see the sunbeams showering the crawlspace through the cracks in the wood flooring. The walls let the ants in, the closed windows let the breeze in, and nothing could keep the heat out. We kept the air conditioner on full-blast at all times as a desperate combative measure, but the house never cooled below 82 degrees. I welcomed them and we walked through the gravel driveway leading to my home, as I offered apologetic warnings all the way. It was reprieve they were seeking and I knew they would find it in my home, but only moderately so. I chided them for visiting Austin in August. Once the guests had showered and returned to a relatively more natural body temperature, we embarked on a night of showing them around Austin.

After dining at the food trucks on east 6th street and weaving in and out of a few bars, we shared a collective desire to shift gears for the night. My friend expressed interest in seeing the stars in Austin; she wanted to go to where we could see them the best, somewhere out in the country. You can see the stars from Austin’s city limits of course – the city isn’t yet too illuminated for that. But when you drive beyond Austin and into the barren Texan rural landscape, the night sky opens wide; it becomes the mouth of the universe, baring its starry teeth and mysterious surrounding dark matter. It’s the kind of mesmerizing scenery you can get lost in. It’s the kind of escape from which you don’t always feel a need to return. It’s dangerous like that.

We drove east down Martin Luther King boulevard without a specific destination in mind. All semblance of civilization grew distant behind us and the road was nearly invisible ahead, swallowed by the tar-thick blackness. We drove for over an hour, listening to Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major. It was already well after midnight when we spontaneously turned left and followed a dirt road around its curve, which led us to an unknown paved road. We parked the car on the side of the road and got out.

When we turned off the music, the silence had a robust presence, thoroughly pronounced in each rest I’d normally expect to be occupied by sound. My friend lay down in the middle of the street, writhing on the hot pavement in gratitude beneath the vision above. I sprawled out on the roof of my van. We stared up toward a heavy sky that seemed ready to collapse. The dark further illuminated the light specs and we were dizzy under the hypnosis of it all until the silence broke. Coyote howls cracked and screeched in what seemed like a furious brawl, an early morning rampage. They sounded close. I envisioned them finding us all out there, lying on the street and the car like carcasses awaiting consumption. We conceded to the anxiety and retreated to the car, eventually finding our way back to the dirt road and then the main drag back into Austin, where we were so far from those stars; so far from Alaska.

Seeing Stars Outside Cities

Acadia Night Sky Festival scheduled for early September

The second annual Acadia Night Sky Festival is scheduled to take place in Bar Harbor, Maine this September, offering a chance for stargazers to take in the most spectacular views of the night sky along the entire eastern seaboard – from one of the most spectacular national parks in the entire U.S. no less. The event will offer both day and night time activities, with plenty to offer the entire family.

Official activities will get underway on Thursday, September 9th with a panel discussion, photography workshop, and stargazing at the Jackson Laboratory. The festival really gets going on Friday, September 10th however and will continue through the weekend, ending with the sunrise creeping over the 1532 foot tall Cadillac Summit on the morning of Monday, September 13th. In between, you’ll find seminars on understanding our universe, photography exhibitions and classes, picnics, star parties, and much more. Some of the events will be conducted by rangers from Acadia National Park who will offer insights into how to navigate by the stars and what it’s like in the park after the sun goes down.

The festival is used to raise awareness of the increase of light pollution in the U.S. as it is a celebration of the wonderful night skies over Maine, which has the most star filled skies east of the Mississippi River. With urban sprawl continuing to grow, and more urban centers sending light into the heavens, our views of the stars are becoming more and more impeded all the time. The Acadia Night Sky Festival hopes to remind us just how amazing those views above us really are.

Meteor Showers at Their Peak Tonight

Wherever you are tonight, unless you’re in a city with too many lights, look up. This is the peak of meteor shower gazing. I remember lying in a field in Maine between my junior and senior years of high school watching meteors streak across the sky, one right after another. It was glorious. August is the busiest month for these fireballs and because there isn’t a full moon this year, the show is easier to see.

The Web site total escape gives tips for where to go for the best viewing. If you’re in a desert, on a mountain or in the countryside away from the coast, you’re particularly lucky. Coastal areas are more prone to have moisture in the air which can fog the sky. For the fullest viewing pleasure, look after midnight. There may be up to 60 Perseid meteors an hour doing their thing.

GADLING’S TAKE FIVE: Week of October 29

Gadling LogoThe moment you have all been waiting for has arrived at last. An unforgettable week… The most amazing things in blogging history, right here, now… It’s Gadling’s Take Five!!! A little too dramatic? I agree. Let’s just get to what you missed.

5. Star Locator:
Here’s a gear piece for all camp-loving individuals who like to stare off into starry nights, but have trouble finding popular constellations like Orion’s Belt. Maybe you just want to take a glimpse at Mars… Now you can do so with this handy dandy gadget, but you’ll have to visit this one yourself. It’s really rather cool!

4. On Stebastopol:
I’ve never heard of Stebastopol and if someone had asked me prior to reading this piece I would have told them it was in Estonia somewhere. Who says travel bloggers know it all? Stebastopol is mentioned here by Erik who passed through not too long ago and also mentioned by Outside Magazine. They say it’s one of the great towns to live in… Hmm…

3. Get Paid to Travel to Iran:

Someone please sign me up for this promotion! How bad I want to travel to the country of Iran I cannot say, but it looks as though they are making more efforts to bring tourists from the West on in to show them they aren’t as dangerous as the media makes them seem. Travel agents – encourage people to travel to Iran and you could be making some extra cash.

2. Bad English:
This is a book all of us might want to pick up, because in my mind bad English is everywhere, including in English speaking countries. Get your quick laughs about goof-ups found across the globe, but I urge you to spell check yourself and make sure your grammar is on point. You’ll probably find that some foreigners are better at grammar usage than you. I have from time to time.

1. Most Dangerous U.S. Cities:
Pack a glock if you find yourself headed to St. Louie, Flint, or Detroit anytime soon. These three just ranked tops in most dangerous U.S. cities. Okay, don’t pack a glock or any kind of weapon, but do look at the list to see why all the violence. You may be surprised where your own city ranks.

Searching for Hollywood’s Real Stars

Griffith ObservatoryIn Los Angeles, the stars are everywhere. They line the pavement on the famous Hollywood Blvd. strip, they sit disguised in overly cramped cafes on Melrose and you can even find them in the eyes of some young hopeful, aspiring actor or actress looking for their chance to appear on the silver screen. However, the hardest place to find stars is straight up in the night sky where you’d expect to see billions. Sigh. Sad, sad, sad… With all the light pollution from the city itself, real star gazing can be a tough hobby to take up in the City of Angels without the use of tools, but there is good news my true star gazing pals.

On Friday, November 3rd, a newly restored Griffith Observatory is set to reopen to the public after four-years of work and expansion. The observatory has long given people the opportunity to view the real stars resting over and directly above the city as well stars over places unimaginable. CNN dishes the details on what Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory now has to offer the public. The Zeiss telescope in the Eastern dome and the solar telescope in the Western dome both remain, but should the night become chilly or you just need to step inside the observatory building, you’ll notice the big, new changes. The building which expanded 40,000 square feet is the house of plenty new attractions which include scale models of planets, exhibits on tides, optics and electricity, and other natural phenomena according to CNN.

It is said that some 7,000 people are expected to swing by the observatory when it reopens next month which is quite heartwarming. It helps me think people are trading in those silly Star Maps (guides for stalking down famous folk) for the real deal.