For my December 2006 release, Confessions of A Viscount, I did quite a bit of research on the night sky. I was quite pleased with the star party scene on the rooftop of Lord Grisham's house, but all my RWA chapter mates and friends who've read the book talk about is "the chimney scene" which comes soon after Alistair's astronomy lesson. Ah, well. Below are some of the interesting factoids I discovered in my research.

In 1810, the planets in our solar system were thought to be: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Pallas, Jupiter, Saturn, and Herschel. "Herschel" was discovered by William and Caroline Herschel on March 13 1781, using one of his telescopes. Herschel called the planet Georgium Sidus after King George III, but it was popularly named for him. Later it was renamed Uranus to fit in with the names of the other planets.

I almost had my heroine be the astronomer, inspired as I was by Caroline Herschel. In addition to being her brother's assistant, she became a noted astronomer in her own right and discovered several nebulae and comets. Comet-hunting was a favorite pastime in the Regency. Science was still considered more of a hobby than an intellectual field of study, so pursuits such as botany and astronomy were not yet considered unsuitable for ladies.

Ceres and Pallas were eventually proven to be asteroids, not planets. Neptune's presence was suspected long before it could be verified. Though Regency astronomers tried a variety of mathematical formulas to search for it, it wasn't until after the Regency that it and Pluto were seen and officially added to our solar system.

Way back when, the Milky Way, or Via Lactea, was thought to be caused by an exhalation hanging in the air. This theory was disproved by the use of telescopes, as a magnified view proves the band is made up of many small stars.

If you haven't been to a remote, high elevation far from city lights, you haven't really seen the Milky Way. In late August last year I attended the Oregon Star Party, a gathering of several hundred amateur astronomers held an hour out of Prinveille on a plateau high in the Ochoco National Forest. We lived outdoors for three days and slept in a tent but my husband won't allow me to call it a camping trip since no campfires were allowed. In fact, no white lights were allowed, period – only red lights. Even the interior lights on cars had to be turned off or covered with red tape. It was a bit unnerving at first, but I was soon able to see just fine with a red lens on my flashlight. After any exposure to white light, it takes your eyes about 20 minutes to fully dilate and adapt to the darkness again.

I was amazed by how much detail could be seen by the naked eye under those ideal circumstances, and even more with a pair of binoculars. The Milky Way is a long, narrow cluster of individual white dots, not a stream of steam flowing from the spout of the "teapot" that we know as Sagittarius, but that's still my favorite description of it.

Before starting to write Confessions, the only objects in the night sky I could confidently identify were the moon and Big Dipper. Reference books helped change that, but attending the Star Party is what gave me the "ooh!" factor. One of the reasons I'm a writer is because I'm easily fascinated by almost any subject, and astronomy is no exception. The first draft of the star party scene on Lord Grisham's roof top was originally twice as long, simply because there was so much really cool stuff in the night sky for Alistair to show Charlotte.

For example, you can see the Andromeda galaxy with just a pair of binoculars. (Regency astronomers thought it was a nebula.) I'd been looking through several telescopes my first night hanging out with astronomers on that plateau in central Oregon, and they were doing their best to help me see various clusters and nebulae but all I saw was random white dots … until one guy focused on Andromeda. Charlotte has the same reaction I did when I finally began seeing objects instead of dots. I completely understand why they stay up all night, dressed in many layers to stave off the chill, one eye squinted shut as they bend over peering through a telescope eyepiece. I came thisclose to buying a telescope of my own, but settled for binoculars. (Hubby couldn't argue about that expenditure, since we can also use them for sporting events, concerts, etc.)

Americans call it the Big Dipper, and Brits call it The Plough. Whatever your term for the asterism (grouping of stars) that's part of the Ursa Major constellation, if you look at the two stars that form the eastern end of the bowl, they point toward Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is at the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper. In the handle of the Big Dipper, if you look at the middle star (Mizar) with binoculars, you can see it's actually a double star – two stars so close together it looks like one is peeking over the other's shoulder.

As a gentleman scholar, Alistair is a member of "The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge," referred to as The Royal Society. Founded in 1645 by a group of men whose only common goal was the advancement of scientific knowledge through experiments, they pursued every field of knowledge known at the time. The Royal Astronomical Society didn't come about until 1820. I like to think Alistair and his friends like Sir Dorian, Mr. Clarke and Lord Grisham would have been founding members. More about the Royal Society can be found at: