Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finding your way

One of the early rank requirements is to show how to find your way at night without a compass.* On one level, it's as simple as learning how to find the Big Dipper's pointer stars and continue to Polaris. But if you take it up a notch, it becomes a lesson in observing the changing seasons and one's place in the universe. Constellations are always changing position, based on the Earth's position in its orbit around the sun, relative axial tilt and so forth. Different constellations appear in different parts of the sky at different times of year. Mariners used to find their way by observing the stars relative to their latitude and time of year to fix their position and time, and plot a course across the ocean.  Before GPS, Galileo and GLONASS, the stars were our space-based navigation system.

It's fun to explore the night sky and contemplate not just where we are, but who, and even when. Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson observed that "telescopes are time machines." When we look up, we're looking deep into the past, all because light travels at a finite speed, and the distances are so immense. On your next camp out, take some binoculars, a star chart or two, and review the Hubble web site's monthly Night Sky video with your boys. Astronomy, besides just being really cool, is a great way to lead into a deep discussion about Life, the Universe and Everything.** If you're lost, look to the heavens to find your way.

Prepared. | For Life.™

*First Class Requirement 1 
**Apologies to Douglas Adams

1 comment:

Allen said...

If you're going to lead them into a discussion about Life, the Universe, and Everything, make sure you have your towel.