Kern Astronomical Society

Aztlan Payne of the Kern Astronomical Society dials in a hydrogen alpha telescope, used to view the sun, to observe solar flares in 2017.

I think about Joseph Kittinger more than I probably should.

Kittinger, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, was part of Project Excelsior — a test where the then-Air Force captain jumped from an altitude of 102,800 feet. 

In a message to base control, he said: "There is a hostile sky above me. Man will never conquer space. He may live in it, but he will never conquer it. The sky above is void and very black and very hostile."

I'm not sure if what Kittinger said was meant as a challenge, but I took it as a word of advice. I'll never have that relationship to the void of space. The closest I'll ever get to the stratosphere is through the lens of telescope.

With SpaceX's first rocket carrying astronauts a success I've started thinking more and more about the countless stars above.

Here are some local spots for anyone hoping to escape into the Milky Way:

• Places away from the city like Wind Wolves PreserveKern National Wildlife Refuge or Red Rock Canyon State Park are great locations to see a clear night sky. Even though they are out in nature, COVID-19 guidelines are still active. Check out light pollution maps like darksitefinder.com or lightpollutionmap.info to find areas with the most visible nighttime sky.

• If you don't want to start searching the skies on your own, join Kern Astronomical Society, a club of amateur astronomers who help newcomers to the hobby.

• Follow our contributing columnist Nick Strobel, the director of the William M. Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College and author of the award-winning website AstronomyNotes.com, with each column he gives great advice on enjoying space. According to Strobel, Mercury will reach its greatest separation from the sun Thursday. Make sure to go out and catch the sight.

• Even those staying close to home can still enjoy the stars and warmer nights in their own backyards.

Bowen West can be reached at 661-395-7660.

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