Stargazing 101- by Charles Post

Photo courtesy of Andy Best (@andy_best).

A night spent around the campfire, beneath a sea of stars, is what we live for. A bright, starry sky goes hand in hand with wilderness. It’s a testament to the freedom of adventure.

The closest star to our solar system is Proxima Centauri, just a mere 5.87 trillion miles away. Being the closest star, it only takes 4 years for it’s light to reach our eyes.  We’re not the only ones that value our starry skies. Seals, birds and oddly enough, dung beetles stargaze, and use them to navigate by. Birds rely on a North-South orientation based on a learned rotational star pattern, which helps them as they migrate across vast distances.

Seals have been found to rely on a single star in the night sky. By sticking their heads out of the water, and looking skyward, they can identify and use a single star as a reference point to navigate by, which can be especially useful when swimming far offshore when physical landmarks, like mountains, are out of sight.

Dung beetles, being perhaps the most bizarre of the three, have been found to use not just single stars for navigation, but recent research suggests that they rely on the Milky Way as a reference when moving about. So, next time you’re looking up at a night sky, remember that seals, birds, and dung beetles are too.

-Charles Post