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The most obvious physical phenomenon that is directly affected by the gravity of the moon are the tides of the ocean.  The tides are an integral part of how maritime life is regulated and the comings and goings of the fishing world in coastal communities.  But not very many people know that at certain times of the year when the orbits of the earth bring the sun and moon into right alignment, there can even be tidal effect on inland bodies of water and even on the solid earth.  Eons ago, when the moon’s orbit was closer to the Earth, it was the effect of the moon that caused massive changes in the topography of the land and on continental drift as well.  This reflects the powerful effect the moon has had on both human history and on global geographical history as well.

Naturally, as you grow in your love of astronomy, you will find many celestial bodies fascinating. But the moon may always be our first love because is the one far away space object that has the unique distinction of flying close to the earth and upon which man has walked. Your study of the moon, like anything else, can go from the simple to the very complex.  To gaze at the moon with the naked eye, making yourself familiar with the lunar map will help you pick out the seas, craters and other geographic phenomenon that others have already mapped to make your study more enjoyable.  Moon maps can be had from any astronomy shop or online and they are well worth the investment.

The planets of our solar system have taken on personalities and mythical appeal in our literature and arts.  It is easy to find artists who render their vision of the planets that make up our society of planets near our sun.  The names of the planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are all from our cultural past being gods from Greek and Roman mythology.  But the solar system is not just made up of these planets.  The solar system is a very busy place indeed. In addition to these larger bodies, there is an asteroid belt that exists between Mars and Jupiter that most of the asteroids that we see in our night sky come from.  There is another belt of large objects further out called the Kuiper belt as well as a “bubble” in space called a heliopause and there is a suspected additional belt outside the known solar system called the Oort belt that we think is the origin of a lot of large asteroids and comets that frequent our solar system and come to orbit our sun.

When learning to find the great constellations in the sky, we use the “find one, you found them all” system.  That is because the easiest constellation to find will guide us to the rest of them.  That constellation is The Big Dipper.  Look to the northern sky on a clear night and widen your field of vision from just focusing on one star and it will pretty much jump out at you.  In will look like a big kitchen pot or ladle, right side up in the fall, upside down in the spring. When you have the big dipper under control, you can pretty easily find the North Star.  This is the star that those ancient sailors depended on the most to find their way to land.  Start with the far edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper, the side that is opposite the handle.  There are two stars that make up that side of the bowl.  So start at the bottom of the pot and mentally draw a line to the top star of the bowl.  These two stars are “pointing” to the North Star.  Just keep following that line, curving a bit with the sky and the bright star that you come to is the North Star.  You can impress your friends or family if you know the scientific name for this star is Polaris.


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