Look up at night and see the stars . . . .

We're experiencing the hottest, driest summer in decades here on Vancouver Island with our own Alberni Valley usually the island's hot spot.   Fire hazards are up, water restrictions are on, outdoor workers, the very young and elders need strategies to cope with the heat.   Could there be a positive note in all this?
Stargazing will be better than ever before in the valley.   The dry air means night skies are usually clear and humidity low -- factors that make the Chilean desert a prime location for many big telescopes!  (Cold is also good, but hey, two out of three is pretty good.)  Add the Sun in the most active phase of its 11-year cycle, and we can expect the good, the great, and even the spectacular.
The easiest thing is just to take a lounger or blanket out into a darkened back yard, lay back and really look at the night sky.  Darker is better of course, but even from my Southport back yard, there's plenty to see, starting with the constellations.
Yes, they're completely arbitrary groupings of stars.  Yes, they have different names in different cultures, including First Nations culture.  No, they were not devised to drive you dotty. 
The sky is a very big place, and we need a way to get around.  It reminds me of students in Japan who would ask, "Oh, you are from Canada?  I know Jane Smith.  She is from Canada too -- do you know her?"  Ummm . . . . The constellations are kind of like the names of major cities, giving us a rough idea where to look.  The individual stars in each constellation help narrow locations down to a neighbourhood.  And the seasons give us a chance to view different "continents" of stars at different times of year. 
Want to wish upon a "star" (meteor)?  July and August each have meteor showers:  the Delta Aquarids streak the sky in both months, peaking this year in the darkness early on July 29, with up to 20 meteors per hour.  The really spectacular show comes with the Perseids, peaking overnight August 12 - 13 and clocking up to 100 meteors per hour.  Meteor showers, by the bye, are named for the constellations they seem to radiate from.
On any clear night, you can see humankind's tentative steps toward the final frontier, including satellites every 6 - 10 minutes (they move about as fast as you can "walk" your fingers across the sky).   The International Space Station overflies us regularly (exact times for Port Alberni available from NASA's Spot the Station).
The passage of planets across the night sky, supermoons, blue moons (July 31!), eclipses of Sun and Moon are less frequent, but predictable.  Tools like TimeAndDate.com let you find event times for our area.
Then there are the one-off sky events.   
On 2015 June 24, Carrie Sapp captured a spectacular image of the Northern Lights over Tofino -- the result of a storm on our Sun.  With more solar storms predicted, expect more opportunities to see the Aurora close to home.  SpaceRef.com carries a 3-day forecast on its Space Weather page, with links to more details.
Every human being who has ever lived on Earth has lived under those same stars, Moon and Sun. 
The stars are our heritage, and (literally) in our bones.  "One people, one sky" is the motto of Astronomers Without Borders -- a reminder that we have the beginnings of a planetary social system, a Level One civilization.  We just need to look up at night and see the stars.
[Gillian Shearwater is a  member of Alberni Deep Space Star Trek Fan Association.  Interested in what we do?  Comm channels:  albernideepspace at gmail dot com or phone 250-724-7293]
A good beginner book is Exploring the Night Sky, by Terence Dickinson.  In 72 pages it gives the basics of astronmy, and observing with the best tool you've got -- your own eyes.  Other sources in this blog are below.
10 Biggest Telescopes on Earth:  how they measure up
Carrie Sapp (Twitter) @zymara:  Aurora over Tofino        https://twitter.com/zymara
NASA, Spot the Station - customize for Port Alberni!  http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/
Sky & Telescope.com - online adjunct to Sky & Telescope magazine.  Major, user-friendly site.   Features include "This week's sky at a glance" and "Let's go stargazing."  http://www.skyandtelescope.com/
SkyNews - Canada's astronomy magazine. Includes "This week's sky", "Aurora watch" and "Find a dark-sky site near you"  http://www.skynews.ca/
SpaceRef.com - space weather, world wide space news, videos etc. http://www.spaceref.com/
Stargazing Tonight's theme image is featured above; worth a visit!  http://www.stargazingtonight.com/
Time and Date / Astronomy:  Sun, Moon, Solar & Lunar eclipses, meteors & comets; articles.  Event times customizable for Nanaimo.  http://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/
Wilderness Astronomy:  starchart of Native Canadian constellations
Astronomers Without Borders  http://astronomerswithoutborders.org/about-astronomers-without-borders.html
DISCLAIMER:  Alberni Deep Space Port Star Trek Fan Association is a registered BC non-profit society, affiliated with STARFLEET, the International Star Trek Fan Association, Inc. -- itself  a registered not-for-profit based in the United States.  Use of trademarked terms is under "fair use" only, as permitted by law.  No infringement is implied or intended.  This message and this organization are both not-for-profit.