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A Beginners Guide to Skywatching

When I decided to write this blog I knew what picture I needed to illustrate it. Not the night sky but a location in Blackpool in the North West of England which is where I first went skywatching with LAPIS. At one point the water tower in the picture almost felt like a celestial object as it was always there when you looked up. Happy days with some very good friends. You know who you are! My introduction to the skywatch came not long after I joined LAPIS. I had a keen interest in UFOs but then, as now, knew that any research needed to be based on rationality and evidence. After attending a few meetings I was told that the group were having skywatch on the following Saturday and would I like to attend. Attend I did and that was when I became firmly attached to LAPIS. There was paranormal talk, general chit chat and the night sky to become familiar with. I didn’t become an expert in astronomy, I certainly know a lot less than some other group members now but I learned to recognise things in the sky, to understand what I was seeing and how they looked in different conditions. So what you may wonder does this have to do with the paranormal? Firstly it doesn’t have to have any connection as the group has always had an interest in astronomy. The night sky is amazing and something we can all share. There is a relevance for UFO and paranormal investigation though. A knowledge, even a basic knowledge of the night sky is a vital tool for dealing with many UFO reports. It can solve a case really quickly or conversely can alert you to something that seems to be genuinely odd. Standing around in the dark and often cold is useful when dealing with other reports too. Incidentally being in the cold is something that will happen to you rather a lot on skywatches. It is something you learn to manage and I promise it is worth it. What is does do is teach you about your own reactions and those of others when you are standing in dark and lonely places. The normal can feel like the paranormal as your senses become heightened and you are away from the familiar and safe. When a witness reports these feelings in a similar situation you are better able to understand them and attach them to their probable cause. So, as the LAPIS Worldwide Skywatch is in January we are interested in the winter sky. Winter with its’ dark skies is a great time for this. The easiest things to spot first are some constellations and you may already be familiar with some of them. I think The Plough and Orion are good constellations to start with. You will also see satellites. These show as a small bright light which doesn’t flash like a plane and which moves in a straight line. They eventually fade away when they move into the shadow of the earth. I would recommend installing an app such as Sky Map or Stellarium on your phone. Both of these are free, I prefer Sky Map but it’s a matter of personal preference and there are others. Have a look at what’s available and see what suits you. The National Trust has a good guide to the winter sky:

You may also see the International Space Station. This is bigger and brighter than any satellite and once you know what it looks like it becomes unmistakable. It’s amazing to watch it knowing that there are people in there, working, sleeping, eating or maybe looking out at the earth. Have a look at this guide to viewing the ISS from Accuweather NASA's Spot The Station Website can tell you when the ISS will be visible to you and you can even sign up for email or text alerts to let you know when the station is flying over your location. So get a warm jumper on. Maybe more than one actually and a coat and hat. Oh and don’t forget some warm socks or your feet will freeze! Put something hot in a flask and add a bar (or two?) of chocolate. The go outside and enjoy the night sky. If you can’t meet up with anyone maybe you can arrange to skywatch at the same time as a friend and give them a call to discuss what you can see. You will see the same things because space is very, very big. Happy Skywatching.

Jan W


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