It’s in our nature to be fascinated by the night sky.
“If you were to go onto any street corner in Chicago, put out a big telescope and point it at [some constellation], you’d have a crowd right there,” says Tim Hunter. “Everybody’s interested in the sky. It’s born into us.”
Hunter ’68 MD, a retired radiologist and professor emeritus who lives in Tucson, Ariz., has written the weekly “Sky Spy” column in the Arizona Daily Star for more than 15 years. He recently compiled his columns into a book, The Sky at Night.
Hunter, who became fascinated by the night sky in first grade, says he experienced his worst moment as an amateur astronomer while studying medicine at Northwestern.
“The Leonid meteor shower in November of 1966 was predicted to be quite good,” recalls Hunter, who lived in Abbott Hall on the Chicago campus at the time. “But I didn’t bother to get up in the middle of the night and walk down to Lake Michigan to see it. The next morning the Chicago Tribune had a headline about one of the greatest meteor showers in history. I nearly lost my breakfast I was so upset.”
His astronomical career improved from there, especially when he moved to Tucson, where he runs several small observatories in the Senoita-Elgin area of southern Arizona.
Hunter, co-founder of the nonprofit International Dark-Sky Association, which is dedicated to protecting the nighttime environment from light pollution, often trains his telescopes on his two favorite constellations: Orion, the Hunter, “because my last name is Hunter. Orion is the brightest constellation.
“The other one is Scorpius, the Scorpion, because it looks like what it’s supposed to look like. It’s got bright stars including Antares, a red star.
“It’s also intriguing because Scorpius was the big scorpion that killed Orion. So [in the night sky], Orion is either chasing Scorpius or running from him, because when one rises the other sets.”
Hunter’s best advice for amateur astronomers is to get a planisphere — a hand-held, star-charting instrument — and rotate its two large disks according to the time and date to reveal a map of the stars currently above you.
“That’s the way to learn the constellations,” he says. “If you like that, then get a good pair of binoculars to look at the sky. Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t waste your money on a telescope.
“Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.”