The idea behind "Skylights" and "Stars" (compiled from Skylights'
"Star of the Week") is to provide general information on the sky
and on the natures of the stars by means of a short, easily
readable page on what will happen in the sky during the upcoming
week along with elementary, but comprehensive, examinations of
individual stars. Skylights is accompanied by a picture of the
week that highlights a variety of sights visible in both the
nighttime and daytime sky and by a variety of external links to
particular topics that appear in the text. The purpose behind
the Star of the Week (and Stars) is to look at the stars'
individual characteristics. Each description begins with an
explanation of the name of the star, followed by a general
description of its nature and by anything that makes the star
unique. With some exceptions, only stars with proper names have
been chosen, though that rule will eventually be broken as more
stars are compiled. The compiled stars are listed both
alphabetically and by constellation as well as by Greek letter
name. Separate linked pages list the stars by spectral class (or
color) and luminosity; one gives proper names, the other Greek
Each star is also shown in a photograph of its parent constellation. Each constellation is presented unlabelled along with a descriptive caption and a link to a captioned picture in which the stars that are listed in the main site are named. Labels are added as needed. For comparison, all the listed stars are cross-linked to each other. Unless otherwise acknowledged, all photographs in Skylights and in Stars are by the author.
Stars also features introductory pages on the natures of the stars, the spectra of the stars, constellations, and star names.
Skylights, which eventually led to the Star of the Week ("Stars"), was born on November 11, 1985 as the "Halley Comet Hotline." It was available by telephone at (217) 333-8789, the number that is still used for Skylights. During the time the comet was visible, and even when it passed beyond the other side of the Sun, informative messages about the comet's progress were recorded five days a week, Monday through Friday, except for a break in March of 1986 (during which time some of the messages were recorded by Dave Hollowell). The Hotline typically answered 100 calls a day, and at its peak received up to 200.
The Hotline was terminated after 111 messages on May 12, 1986, when the comet became too distant and faint to be readily seen. Given the interest shown about the comet and astronomy, the daily Hotline was thereafter converted to a weekly service that gave information about the vast number of other events that happen in the sky, from lunar and planetary movements to the visibility of the constellations. The messages were recorded on Friday to be available fresh for the weekend when people would have the most time to view the sky. The name "Skylights" was suggested by my wife Maxine.
The service typically received 50 or so calls per week, though the peak could be much higher when some event made the news. Around 1996, I began to send Skylights via email to a small group of family and friends. My cousin (Ursula Schuster) then began circulating Skylights around her company in California, which was followed by its posting to a University listserver and eventually to several State listerservers for teachers. Skylights now goes out by email to nearly 1000 people. Around 1997, the script for the telephone service was placed on a crude web page, for which Dan Goscha provided instruction.
Skylights by itself told little of actual natures of the stars that were featured in the text. The result was the birth of the Star of the Week on January 30, 1998, beginning with the prominent winter star Aldebaran. Since the website was already in operation, it was only natural to compile and list the previous Stars of the Week. Shortly thereafter, the now-independent Star of the Week site was upgraded into an early version of its present more-readable form, along with 35mm constellation pictures that I had been compiling for several years as an avocation. A picture of the week was also added to the Skylights page. The Stars site was then further upgraded with tutorials on stars, on spectra, and on other topics.
My thanks to all those named above, to anyone I may inadvertently have left out, to the many people who have written giving their own thanks and encouragement, and to the University of Illinois Department of Astronomy.