Keeping an eye on the night sky

I can't remember if it was the second nudge or the third that finally got me to look up.

Maps showing what last month's stunning alignment of five planets would look like kept popping up in my e-mail. They hooked me – but I kept putting off a viewing amid demands of busy evenings. And so the maps kept coming.

Aside from naturally wanting to see such a sight, I knew I could trust the sender's judgment. A story of his, some time earlier, had given me new appreciation for the constellation Orion. His interest in the Leonid meteor shower had inspired me to rise in the wee hours last fall to watch a show I'll never forget.

So finally, my daughter and I headed for open territory – and another spectacular treat that inspired at least two more memorable trips to a nearby beach where the viewing was good.

My relentless colleague was Jim Bencivenga, community producer at the online version of the Monitor (and former editor of the Ideas section). Starting this month, he will share with you his enthusiasm for all things extraterrestrial in a monthly column called "Skywatch."

Jim says that "looking for planets, stars, and constellations links us to one of the oldest activities of the human race." It also engages us with remarkable developments, such as the Hubble telescope, that allow us to travel once-unimaginable distances to see the vast world beyond us.

Jim's interest in astronomy is as expansive as the night sky itself. We hope, as a result, that you'll find plenty to occupy your gaze and thought over the coming year.

To get started, turn to page 14 and take a summer stroll in the night-sky neighborhood.

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