Jacket photograph by John Moran, April 1997

,
Comet Hale-Bopp, Mathews Farm,
Levy County, Florida

The

Florida Night Sky

Elinor De Wire has been enamored with the
sky and all it contains since she first looked
through a telescope at the planet Saturn at age
six. An avid amateur astronomer, she served on
the staff of the Mystic Seaport Planetarium
from 1988 to 1994, writing and producing
programs, teaching astronomy courses, and
lecturing. She has authored numerous articles
on astronomy and often features sky topics in
her newspaper column, “Shore Almanac.” Her
three children’s books—Journey Through the
Universe, Activities for Young Astronomers, and
Reach for the Sky—are used in schools
throughout the nation. A former resident of
Florida, Ms. De Wire now watches the stars
over her home in Seabeck, Washington.

ISBN 1-56164-238-X

The Florida
Night Sky
A Guide to Observing
from Dusk till Dawn

T

De Wire

Jacket design by Shé Sicks

Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida

Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida

The Florida
Night Sky
Pineapple Press

$24.95

Elinor De Wire

he Florida night sky is a source of fascination, inspiration, and enjoyment—a marvelous, immense playground
open to all. Whether your aim is a casual
appreciation of the heavens or a serious
study of astronomy, the place to begin looking up is your own backyard. The Florida
Night Sky will get you started on a rewarding journey of cosmic discovery, beginning
with how the known universe is organized
and where Florida fits into the picture.
Every place on earth has its own singular view of the stars, and the Florida sky has
unique advantages. There’s an enviable openness to the Florida landscape and flat horizon, allowing for a broader view of the sky in
all directions. The warm, snowless winter
nights with their long periods of darkness are
ideal for stargazing, and Florida’s position
near the tropics presents a view of the four
stars in the Southern Cross in the spring and
early summer. The two coasts offer stunning
vistas of the sun rising and setting in the
water—watch for the Green Flash as the sun
finally drops into the ocean on the Gulf
coast.
A starting point for those who want to
learn the Florida night sky and enjoy its
treasures, this book also serves as a helpful
reference for serious amateur astronomers.
Enjoy the activities in these pages and be
inspired by the science and history underlying them. Step outside, look up, and get
acquainted with the Florida night.

The Florida
Night Sky

Looking south in early June from Indian Key (about halfway down the Florida Keys).
Note CRUX, the Southern Cross, at bottom center. For a wider view, see page 170.
Drawing by Millard Wells, AWS.

The Florida
Night Sky
A Guide to Observing from
Dusk till Dawn

Elinor De Wire

Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida

Copyright © 2002 by Elinor De Wire
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by
any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher.
Inquiries should be addressed to:
Pineapple Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 3889
Sarasota, Florida 34230
www.pineapplepress.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
De Wire, Elinor, 1953The Florida night sky: a guide to observing from dusk till dawn / Elinor
De Wire
cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-56164-238-X
1. Astronomy—Observers manuals. I. Title.
QB63 .D4 2002
522—dc21
First Edition
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Design by Shé Sicks
Printed in the United States of America

2002074974

For Jon, my favorite stargazing partner

C o n t e n t s
Acknowledgments

viii

Jacket Photographer’s Note
Introduction

ix

Looking Up at the Florida N ig h t

1

1

Your Place in S p ac e

7

2

Get Acquainted with the N ig h t

3

Observing in Florida at D u s k and D aw n

4

Start with the M o on

5

Enjoying the P l a n e t s

6

A Sampling of C on s t e l l a t i on s

7

Observing and Understanding the S t a r s

8

Looking for C o m e t s and A s t e r o i d s

9

Near-S k y Phenomona

115

265

Looking into Deep S p ac e

292

11

G e a r and G a d g e t s

319

357

Suggested Reading List

369

Appendices
1 Planetary Data 372
2 The Twenty Brightest Stars
3 The Messier Objects 376
Index

379

61

82

10

Glossary

28

374

169
206
245

A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s
The author wishes to thank the following people and organizations
for providing information, pictures, assistance, and encouragement in
the preparation of this book: former astronaut Dr. John Young of
NASA; Dr. Leslie Brown, professor of astronomy at Connecticut
College; Jack Horkheimer, host of public television’s “Star Gazer”;
Don Treworgy, director of the Planetarium at Mystic Seaport; Fred
Schaaf of Sky & Telescope; Dr. E.C. Krupp of Griffith Observatory;
Bill Nye the Science Guy; James “The Amazing” Randi; Phil “The
Bad Astronomer” Plait; Jon U. Bell, director of Hallstrom
Planetarium; Dr. James Dire, professor of astronomy at the U.S.
Coast Guard Academy; Betty Mae Jumper, director of communications for the Seminole Tribe; Bob Gent of the International Dark Sky
Association; Bill Falcone and Mike Ostrander of the Thames
Astronomy Club; Jack & Alice Newton of Chiefland Astronomy
Village; Tippy D’Auria, founder of the Winter Star Party; Tom Clark,
editor of Amateur Astronomer; Hal Povenmire of the Florida Fireball
Patrol; Chris Stephan of the Highlands Stargazers; Linda Jacobson of
Moore Observatory; George Fleenor of the former Bishop
Planetarium & Observatory; Ron Maddison of Astronaut
Planetarium & Observatory; Sue Kuhn and her fourth graders at
South Ocala Elementary School; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory;
Florida State University’s Physics Department; The Association of
Lunar & Planetary Observers; Cornell University’s Department of
Astronomy; and the staff of the public libraries in Winter Park,
Florida, and Gales Ferry and Ledyard, Connecticut. Thank you to the
“Science Made Simple” website for metric conversions. Thanks also to
the many Florida astronomers, both amateur and professional, who
provided ideas and inspiration: Nancy Thomas, Nadine G. Barlow,
Steve Squyres, Ian Griffin, Jeff Beish, Tim Printy, Bill Reineke, Roger
Curry, Dan Durda, Vic Menard, Dan Boyar, Chuck Faranda, Joseph
Cain, Dick Terrell, Jeff Petitt, and the late Donald F. Trombino. Many
thanks go to June Cussen, Sarah Cussen, and the staff of Pineapple
Press for their hard work on this project. A special thank you goes to
my husband, Jon, and my children, Jessica and Scott, who’ve been
“looking up” with me for many years.

viii

J A c k e t
P h o t o g r a p h e r ’ s
N o t e
Comet Hale-Bopp, April 1997
Mathews Farm, Levy County
Of all the interests we have in childhood, it’s hard to know which we
will carry forth into adulthood. Though astronomy was my earliest
passion in life, I was soon to learn that math is the language of science,
and that my love for the night sky would not sustain a career in
astronomy. But I discovered photography at about that time and was
soon happily bumbling my way through some really awful nighttime
pictures. The seeds were sown.
In my years at the Gainesville Sun, I cannot recall all the pictures
I’ve made that reflect my early interest in astronomy. I do recall vividly a picture I didn’t make, a truly beautifully photo of Comet
Hyakutake that ran on our front page in March 1996 after it moved
on the AP wire. The photo showed the comet drifting past the Big
Dipper, and it was made by Johnny Horne of the Fayetteville ObserverTimes. I was impressed by its clarity and aesthetics and felt humbled
by my own lack of preparation to make a photo of this caliber. But the
world of astronomy was already abuzz with talk of the approach of
Comet Hale-Bopp, and I resolved not to let the Big One get away. I
had a year to prepare. . . .
I wanted to make a picture of the comet that not only was beautiful, but was clearly grounded in the landscape of North Central
Florida. Among the many impressive natural features of this place I
call home, live oaks—dead or alive—hold particular allure. I had just
the right tree in mind for my picture. For a hundred years and counting, comets, eclipses, meteors, and more have added drama to the
night sky beneath which this ancient live oak has borne silent witness.
Deep-sky photography typically involves long time exposures
with precisely guided instruments that track the apparent movement
of the stars through the night sky. I consulted with astronomy professor Alex Smith at the University of Florida, with whom I had taken a
survey course twenty years ago. He showed me a crude, but effective,
ix

tracking device he made to photograph Halley’s Comet in 1986. I built
my own, borrowing from his design. Called a barn-door tracker, the
gizmo consists of a pair of 1x4 boards joined with a hinge that is aligned
to turn on axis with the rotation of the Earth. The rig is anchored to a
tripod, and the camera is mounted on a ballhead attached to the top
board. I replaced the hinge pin with a brass tube for sighting on the
North Star, and by manually turning at 1 rpm a 1/4˝ x 20 threads-perinch thumbscrew offset 11 7/16˝ from the hinge pivot, the boards
spread, moving the camera, slowly. . . . The world is a miraculous place,
and it was a beautiful experience sitting alone in the dark in the middle
of nowhere with my little comet tracker, hand-cranking my camera in
silent synchronicity with the Universe.
The photograph was made with a Nikon FE2 camera and 35mm
lens on Fuji SG 800 film. Exposure was 5 minutes at f/2.8. The tracking motion, while “freezing” the stars (and comet), creates a ghostly
blur in the oak tree and the distant tree line. Radio-triggered strobes
with amber gels cross-illuminate the tree. Two-and-a-half minutes into
the exposure, a Nikon soft-focus filter was placed on the lens, causing
the celestial objects to glow around their central points of light.

—John Moran

x

The Florida
Night Sky

Introduction
Looking up
at the
Florida

N i g h t
I am one acquainted with the night . . .
— Robert Frost
hen was the last time you went outdoors at night just to look
at the evening sky over Florida? Perhaps you watched the Sun
slowly melt into the Gulf of Mexico’s horizon, then looked for the first
bright star to appear. You may have gazed in awe at the brightness of
a full Moon rising over the Keys, or tried to locate the North Star. If
your eyes were well adapted and unburdened by city lights, you may
have noticed the sheen of the Milky Way arching across the heavens,
or caught a meteor streaking madly overhead.
Unless you’re an avid skywatcher, probably it’s been some time
since you’ve given the night sky more than a cursory look. Other concerns may occupy your evenings — meetings, classes, shopping,
homework, working out at a fitness center, the couch and your
favorite TV show, the Internet. It’s likely you’re inside right now reading this book. Most of us live a diurnal, indoor life. We’re inside buildings much of the day and all of the night, separated from the sky by
ceilings and roofs. Unlike our ancestors, who hunted, worked, ate,
played, and slept outdoors, we have little exposure to the open sky,
and when we do, we seldom look up. There’s no great need to; the

W

1

The Florida Night Sky
media keep us posted on the weather and any newsworthy astronomical events.

Welcome the Night
Whereas other animals hang their heads and look at the
ground, he made man stand erect, bidding him look up to the heavens,
and lift his head to the stars.
—Ovid, Roman Poet
Half of our lives are spent in darkness. People who live to age 100 will
have experienced about 438,000 hours of night. Only about 292,000
hours of that time is needed for sleeping. What could they do in the
remaining 146,000 hours of darkness?
Even so, many people still go out and look at their sky, especially at night. The natural realm above is important to them, not only
for personal enjoyment and learning, but also for the spiritual connection it provides between themselves and the rest of the universe.
The sky’s beauty and mystery evoke ambivalent emotions, a mix of
comfort, reverence, curiosity, and concern. It’s always there, everchanging and renewing itself with dependable regularity, but it’s also
filled with strangeness. There are far more unexplainable things up
there than knowns. A romance of sorts surrounds the amateur study
and exploration of it, and in recent years it has become a safe, refreshing, and stimulating place to seek out nature.
The sky is our most accessible recreational area, a gigantic, international park open to anyone who wishes to visit. It’s big, it’s free, and
there are enough wondrous phenomena in it to keep even the most
avid skywatcher occupied for a lifetime. There are no limitations on
the enjoyment. Anyone may look, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, social standing, or other situation. Perhaps only the sightless are
shortchanged by it.
As in any pursuit, level of involvement and degree of knowledge
are entirely of your own choosing. You may be content with recreational skywatching — casual looking and wondering, satisfying your
own curiosity, and gaining a bit of knowledge here and there. More
2

Looking up at the Florida Night

Astronomy is not Astrology
tronomy is the study of the heavens, the entire realm beyond
the Earth to the most distant reaches of the known
Universe. This includes the Moon and Sun, the planets in our solar
system, stars, galaxies, comets, meteors, and more. Astronomy is
not astrology. Astrology is an ancient pursuit that presumes the
stars, planets, and other celestial bodies control the affairs and fate
of humans. Astrology is a precursor to astronomy, but it has no
importance in modern science.

A

rigorous study might earn you the sobriquet amateur astronomer. As
such, your neighbors and friends will wonder about your late night
haunts in the backyard, the strange way you walk through parking lots
with eyes upturned stumbling into curbs and car fenders, and your
gushy comments about the effulgent full Moon at perigee or the brilliance of Venus. They’ll find your telescope and star charts fascinating,
your knowledge of the heavens impressive. Show them the moons of
Jupiter or teach them to tell time by the Big Dipper, and uncertainty
turns into amazement.

Famous Florida Skywatchers
Oh Night, sweet though somber space of time…
— Michelangelo
Florida attracts many avid amateur astronomers and casual skywatchers. Among the famous authors who have enjoyed and commented on
its unique night skies were Rachel Carson, Ernest Hemingway,
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Stephan Crane, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings,
and John James Audubon.
Every place has a sky and every sky its own signature. The sky is
the same in some respects everywhere you go, but different too.
Weather, light intrusion, landscape, and most importantly the time of
year and latitude all play a part in the overall night sky experience. A
3

The Florida Night Sky
The Best Viewing on Planet Earth
ost astronomers agree the best place on Earth to observe
the night sky is in the Chilean Andes. Cerro Tololo
Interamerican Observatory, built in 1976, sits at an altitude of
7,200 feet — about one-quarter of the Earth’s atmospheric thickness. The air here is exceptionally dry and clear. The observatory
has 8 telescopes and boasts clear nights 75% of the year. Most of
us never have the opportunity to observe from a clear, elevated
place like the Andes. Instead, we learn to enjoy the heavens from
our home turf.

M

dark winter night in the Arizona desert has its own tacit traits when
compared to a crisp spring evening in a Vermont field with cows softly crunching grass. The chilly Minnesota autumn sky dancing with
leaves and auroral ribbons seems riotous alongside the gentle rise of
the Southern Cross over tropical Hawaii.
The Florida sky has singularities too. There’s an enviable openness to the Florida landscape and flat horizon, allowing for a broader
view of the sky in all directions. The ocean horizon provides excellent
opportunities for finding the elusive planet Mercury and observing
such unusual phenomena as the Green Flash and Zodiacal Light. Sky
conditions in Florida are generally good for both the unaided eye and
optical viewing when compared to the rest of the nation. The warmer,
snowless winter nights with their long periods of darkness are ideal for
stargazing. (Ambient light reflects off snow cover and can cause as
much light intrusion as a nearby city.) But humidity can be a problem
at times, since Florida is bordered by ocean on three sides. The abundant conifers of Florida, which release less moisture into the air than
deciduous trees, counter some of the atmospheric turbulence. Best of
all, Florida’s low latitudes offer glimpses of phenomena not visible
over much the nation. The Southern Cross, the Coal Sack, and the
nearby stars of the Alpha Centauri group are among the specialties.
Many dark sites are available in Florida, rural spots where light
pollution has not intruded and deep space objects can be observed.
Florida also has a lot of heavy foliage areas year-round, excellent for
dark viewing because they reflect almost no light back into the sky as
other surfaces like buildings, roads, and water do. These viewing sites
4

Looking up at the Florida Night

T

Blast-off!
he telephone area code for Kennedy Space Center is 321.
How apropos is that?

attract amateur astronomers from all over the world, provide places
for astronomy clubs to meet, and distinguish Florida as a superior
star-party destination. The annual Winter Star Party, hosted by the
Southern Cross Astronomical Society at Camp Wesumkee in the
Florida Keys, offers dark skies and steady air and is among the most
highly attended viewing events in the nation. A number of professional astronomers make their homes here, doing vital research at
Florida’s universities and science centers. In addition, Kennedy Space
Center at Cape Canaveral, as the official embarkation port for nearly
all U.S. space missions, has propelled Florida to the forefront of
astronomy and the space sciences. NASA’s public education initiative,
along with programs offered at Florida’s many observatories, planetariums, and science museums, have earned praise from scientists and
teachers worldwide.
If you haven’t looked at the Florida sky lately, perhaps now is the
time. There’s much to enjoy and learn as the new millennium unfolds.
The U.S. commitment to space exploration has lifted hundreds of
satellites into Earth orbit, put human footprints on the Moon, established a space station and regular shuttle missions, and probed the
mysterious workings of the solar system. The coming decades will
bring even grander discoveries and, hopefully, human footprints on
the Red Planet, Mars. Add to this the phenomenal understanding
astronomers now have of the origin and nature of the universe and the
discovery of numerous extrasolar planets, and you can easily envision
a world looking upward and outward in the coming century.

GET STARTED!
Within each of us, there is at least a trace of a
compulsion to explore.
— Edward G. Gibson, U.S. Astronaut
5

The Florida Night Sky
This book is not an astronomy text, nor is it a definitive resource
for the advanced observer. It’s a guidebook for beginners, a starting
point for those who want to better know the Florida night sky and
enjoy its treasures. Use it to undertake a pleasurable hobby — amateur astronomy. Enjoy the activities in the pages ahead and be inspired
by the science and history underlying them. Then, as your knowledge
and needs advance, consider purchasing more in-depth books and
software on the night sky or taking a course in astronomy or small telescope building.
Amateur astronomy is a pursuit that reflects many levels of ability
and knowledge, from casual unaided eye observing to avid telescope
building and star hunting. You can choose your own level of involvement and mastery, secure in the fact that the community of amateur
astronomers everywhere welcomes all skywatchers. This fraternity of
observers shares an important goal of opening up the sky to everyone as
a place to comfortably explore and make personal discoveries.
A fundamental knowledge of astronomy and space science is
more important than ever as we enter the twenty-first century — an
era when humans may at last set foot on other planets and come to
understand the origin of the universe. On the way, we may answer the
most important question of all: Are we alone in the universe or are
there other intelligent beings far out in space looking up tonight . . .
wondering, marveling, studying?
Learning, enjoyment, and discovery starts in your own backyard.
Step outside, look up, and get “acquainted with the Florida night.”
The rewards will surprise and delight you.

— Elinor De Wire
Fall, 2002

Beautiful are the things we see
More beautiful those we understand…
— Niels Steensen

6

Yo u r

Place
in

S p a c e

1
Platform Earth
I am a passenger on spaceship Earth.
— Richard Buckminster Fuller

L

earning about the night sky over Florida is a journey that
begins with Earth. The home planet is your viewing platform,
and Florida is your seat on the platform. Everything in the universe
you can see, and much you can’t see, is displayed on the natural big
screen above. It’s not a static scene, but a continuous show that runs
day by day, year after year, millennium upon millennium. Each day
Earth makes one complete rotation on its axis, taking you in your
Florida seat with it. Over the course of a year Earth’s journey around
the Sun covers some 590 million miles (950 million kilometers). In
addition, the Sun drags Earth and the other planets along with it as it
moves about the center of our galaxy. Our galaxy, the Milky Way,
moves through space too, pulled along by the gravity of nearby galaxies and also by the universal expansion of the fabric of space. It may
not seem obvious, but you’re on an incredible cosmic ride.
From Earth, you view a universe that seems vast and remote, a
7

The Florida Night Sky
A Portrait of Home
n December 14, 1972, the
Apollo 17 astronauts, the last
men to visit the Moon, were
returning home. There was no
visible Moon in the sky for us to
look at in wonder as the Apollo
17 crew approached home; it was
New Moon. But for them, something quite remarkable was visible
NASA
out the window of their capsule. The full
Earth loomed before them — a huge orb swathed in cerulean seas
and ruddy continents, delicately etched in clouds beneath a thin
blue haze of air. Astronaut Eugene Cernan took a photo of it. The
picture was later made into a poster titled “Full Earth.” To date,
it is one of the bestselling posters ever printed, a snapshot of
“Home Sweet Home” from 150,000 miles (241,402 kilometers)
out in space.

O

separate place. It’s difficult to imagine yourself a part of this grand
scheme. Looking “out at” the universe is what most of us think we do.
Looking “from within it” is what we really do. It would be easier to
pinpoint your place in the universe if you weren’t planet-bound. This
fact alone explains much of the difficulty our ancestors had in trying
to explain Earth’s position in relation to the other planets and the
stars. Only in the last century, with the advent of powered flight and
rocketry, have we truly been able to observe Earth as a planet.
Astronauts have seen it suspended in space and agree that when
viewed from “out there” it’s not only delicately beautiful but also a recognizable member of the planetary family. Most of us, however, will
never see Earth from high orbit or from the Moon or Mars.
At best, airline flights elevate us into the lower regions of the troposphere (the lowest part of Earth’s atmosphere), where we can begin
to sense the immensity of the universe in which we live. The panorama from an airplane may not be as grand as from a spacecraft, but it’s
a small step outward that begins to reveal Earth’s imposing size. At
35,000 feet you can see the curvature of the planet and view the land8

The Florida Night Sky
by
Elinor De Wire

For more information about this and other Pineapple Press
titles visit our website at http://www.pineapplepress.com

Pineapple Press titles are available from http://www.pineapplepress.com
and from major bookstore chains and online retailers.