StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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[Moon Phases]


375a  NOVEMBER 2, 2003:   Hawk Mountain Lunar Eclipse Update
Mark this Saturday on your calendars for one of this year's top astronomical events, a total lunar eclipse. If you live in a city saturated by the glare of streetlights, make your destination for viewing this eclipse, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, where the skies will be darker and the eclipse more vibrant. My students and other ASD Planetarium volunteers will be transporting about one dozen telescopes to Hawk Mountain to help others maximize their enjoyment of this event. If you own a telescope and would like to help, please call the ASD Planetarium at 484-765-5557 or E-mail Gary A. Becker to reserve a spot in the large parking area. If you have had trouble using your telescope, some of my former students like Adam Jones, Michael Stump, Steve Hopkins, and Jesse Leayman are very handy and will assist in maximizing your assembly efforts. Bring your own tools. Telescopes will be set up starting at 4:00 p.m. There is a talk about eclipses at the Visitor Center at 5:30 p.m. The lunar eclipse starts at 6:32 p.m. Getting to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary from the Lehigh Valley is as easy as getting on I-78 and following it west to exit 35 at Lenhartsville. Coming off the exit, turn left at the stop sign and go north on Rt. 143 for three miles to the Sunoco gas station. Turn left here and follow this road along the valley floor through the small towns of Albany and Eckville, then up the mountain. Near the summit you'll see signs directing you to make another left into the Sanctuary parking areas. Warm clothing, a flashlight, and coffee or tea will help you tolerate the cold. If sky conditions are overcast or it looks like rain, consult after 2 p.m. Saturday. Look for a new StarWatch Wednesday and a final update Saturday.
[Directions to Hawk Mountain-1]
From Allentown take I-78 west to Exit 35 at Lenhartsville, PA. At the bottom of the exit, turn left onto Rt. 143.

[Directions to Hawk Mountain-1]
At the bottom of Exit 35, turn left (north) onto Rt. 143 and proceed for three miles to the Sunoco gas station.

[Directions to Hawk Mountain-2]
Turn left at the Sunoco gas station and continue seven miles through the small towns of Albany and Eckville to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

[Directions to Hawk Mountain-3]

[South Outlook]
Watch the moonrise from South Lookout about 4:45 p.m., then walk down to the Visitor Center for a presentation about eclipses at 5:30 p.m. The total lunar eclipse begins at 6:32 p.m. All photography by Gary A. Becker...

375b  NOVEMBER 5, 2003:   Curtain Time for A Great Lunar Eclipse
I have been watching the moon this past week grow (wax) from a thin crescent in the southwest to a first quarter moon Saturday. During this week the moon will continue to wax, as each night it wanders farther eastward, growing in brightness until the moon reaches its full phase and it is eclipsed in Earth's shadow on Saturday. Since the moon is a sphere and it is revolving around the Earth, the moon's position in the sky is continuously changing with respect to the sun. As the moon brightens, we are really watching our nearest natural neighbor emerge from its own shadow until it is opposite to the sun, and we view the entire sunlit hemisphere that is pointed in our direction. Because the moon's orbit is tilted to the plane of the Earth's orbit, the moon is usually above or below the Earth's orbital plane when it is full. But early on Saturday evening, the positions of the sun, the Earth, and the moon will be so perfectly aligned that when the moon is full, it will also be crossing Earth's orbital plane. This means that the moon must slip into the shadow of the Earth, muting its bright glow to a dull coppery red, darkening the landscape, and allowing us to witness the full moon's presence against the starry backdrop of a dark and beautiful night sky. Luna begins entering Earth's shadow called the umbra at 6:32 p.m. EST. One hour, 34 minutes later at 8:06 p.m. the eclipse becomes total, but only remains so for 30 minutes. Between 8:31 p.m. and 10:05 p.m. EST, the moon emerges from the umbra to shine once again with its full brilliance. Keep in mind that lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to watch with binoculars, spotting scopes, and telescopes. No filters are required. If it is safe to look at a regular full moon without hurting your eyes, it is perfectly safe to watch the moon move through the Earth's shadow. Enjoy this lunar eclipse!

375c  NOVEMBER 8, 2003:   Hawk Mountain Lunar Eclipse Day
The weather forecast for this evening's total lunar eclipse could not be more optimistic. Observers should enjoy absolutely pristine sky conditions, but temperatures promise to hover in the upper twenties. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, PA and the Allentown School District Planetarium will be sponsoring a free lunar eclipse watch. Starting at 5:30 p.m. a short presentation about lunar and solar eclipses will be given in the Visitor Center. Telescopes will be set up in the west end of the largest parking lot and aimed at the rising moon as it clears the bare-branched trees. If you are bringing a telescope, consider setting it up here with the other observers. The eclipse begins promptly at 6:32 p.m. as the moon begins to move into the umbra, the primary shadow of the Earth. A cookie bite created by Earth's shadow will grow, "eating" its way across the lunar landscape as the sky becomes darker, and hundreds of new stars are unveiled in the failing moonlight. Totality begins at 8:06 p.m. For 25 minutes a crimsoned full moon, muted by Earth's own dark shadow, will eerily tread among the stars. It should be a spectacular scene against the diaphanous glow of the Milky Way arched high across the sky. At 8:31 p.m. the moon peeks from the umbra, and the sky will slowly brighten to its previous appearance prior to the eclipse. Visitors should bundle up to protect themselves against the cold. Bring flashlights, snacks, and warm drinks. It's carry in, carry out. Drive slowly because there will be plenty of pedestrian traffic milling about in the dark. There will also be guided tours to South Lookout to view the eclipse. Come early and participate in a Raptor program at 4 p.m. in the Visitor Center. You'll find more eclipse information at

376    NOVEMBER 9, 2003:   Leonid Alert
Astronomers are again betting that this year's Leonid meteor shower will produce above average displays that might make poking your head outdoors worthwhile, especially during the predawn hours of Wednesday, Nov. 19. Leonids result from debris shed by comet Tempel-Tuttle during its return to the sun every 33 years and the Earth colliding with this dross in its yearly orbit around the sun. The comet last passed near the sun in early 1998, and ever since, Leonid activity has been higher than normal. Currently, hourly rates are on the wane, so this display will not be as spectacular as the flood of shooting stars that dazzled US observers on the morning of Nov. 18, 2001. Still, the potential for seeing several hundred meteors over a four or five hour stretch might be very real. Again, it seems as if the Eastern Seaboard is the best location within the continental US for seeing Leonids, but there should be plenty of meteoric activity to keep everyone content across the US. About 12:30 a.m. on the morning of the 19th, Earth will be centered in a large filament of Tempel-Tuttle, a region composed of many old strands of debris, each given off by separate passages of the comet centuries in the past. The filament will be diffuse without a great deal of structure, but it will be very large, taking the Earth one day to pass through it. Because the filament is old, gravitational tugs and pulls from the Earth and other planets will have removed the smaller particles. The result may yield a large number of fireballs and give US observers a six-hour window from midnight to dawn where rates could top 50 shooting stars per hour. The meteors will seem to radiate from the Sickle or head of Leo, the Lion, which will be found in the east at midnight and high in the SE by dawn.

377a  NOVEMBER 16, 2003:   Clear Sky Clocks
If you make astronomical observations, then you must have a real interest in understanding atmospheric conditions and knowing their influences on the sky. But making sense of online data can be tedious and frustrating without having had at least an introductory meteorology course, and the Weather Channel is often not detailed enough. Enter Clear Sky Clocks, the brainchild of Allan Rahill of Montreal Canada and Attilla Danko of Ottawa. They have created a highly visual and understandable way of obtaining the basic information that observers need to know when deciding "weather" it will be suitable for making astronomical observations: cloud cover, transparency, seeing, and times of light and dark. Each category is represented by a series of 44 blocks with resolutions of one hour that extend across the graphic display. They are color-coded to identify easily the current or future observational conditions. The "Cloud Cover" bar examines in eight steps the percentage of sky that is covered by clouds. Clear skies are represented by dark blue. White means overcast. The "Transparency" bar comes next. It details the cleanliness of the atmosphere. It is an indicator of the faintest stars that are visible. Atmospheric moisture is being measured, but it does not take into account the amount of particulate pollution that is also dimming the sky. The "Seeing" bar measures the air turbulence above the designated site. Bad seeing is when telescopic images waiver and boil as the air moves. Bad seeing hides image detail. Finally the last bar indicates when the site is in darkness or in light making the Clear Sky Clock a useful tool for conducting observations during the day or night. Go to to learn more about this great observing tool.
Clear Sky Clocks offer a real-time view of observing conditions for 1562 locations across Canada and the US. This Clear Sky Clock highlights the local weather at the South Mountain Campus of the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society, East Rock Road in Allentown, PA.

377b  NOVEMBER 22, 2003:   Smiling Moon
Two weeks have passed since the total lunar eclipse of November 8 viewed by approximately 750 people at Hawk Mountain near Kempton. The StarWatch team of Allentown School District pupils and adult volunteers kept their telescopes pointed moonward for nearly four hours in the bone-chilling cold. Thank you! Thanks also to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, co-sponsors of this event along with the ASD Planetarium. My wife, Susan, wrote about the eclipse and these stream-of-consciousness thoughts came from her journal. "I saw the moon like a spotlight peering between the trees suspended in a bark-textured frame. What is difficult to understand is that I know it is rising, but I don't see it occur because it is rising so gradually. Scopes are scattered like metal shrubbery waiting for the moon to be covered by Earth's shadow. There are a lot of people here, with rumblings of conversation as they either look or focus their scopes. Howling at the moon, some kids are pretending to be coyotes. Earth's shadow is like a thumbprint slowly smudging the pancake of the moon. It must have been a real eye-opener for primitive people to lose the moon. It is easy to see how a monster might be taking a bite out of it, for it looks likes a gobbled up smile. The purity of the night, through, is what impresses me at this time of year. Everything is pristine. The sky is aglitter with stars, like diamonds, or at least, chunks of rock crystal on fire. The eclipsed moon is a red eye in a dark sky like the great goddess Diana has winked at the Earth and the eye-shadowed lid is closed. The reddish moon makes us all give pause." You are invited to download an eclipse photo taken by Mark Balanda at Web StarWatch at the URL below. A new StarWatch will appear tomorrow.

[November 8 Lunar Eclipse]
Totality, November 8, 2003:   Smiling moon... amidst glittered stars... framed in bark texture... Susan B. Reisinger-Becker... Photography by Mark Balanda...

378    NOVEMBER 23, 2003:   The Magic of Saturn
The wind now howls through the bare-branched trees that normally hide my eastern horizon. Between their limbs, clanking like kids playing with wooden swords, I can see the coming attractions of winter blazing low to the horizon. The trees sway against the darkening sky. The seasons notch forward in their yearly cycle. Star patterns like old friends again begin to greet my acquaintance. Taurus, Orion, and Gemini, all climbing skyward, announce their presence with the fanfare of their brightest stars: Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Castor, and Pollux. Higher still and like a tiny wisp of warm, moist breath against the invigorated air, the Pleiades sparkle near my treetops. Amidst all of this scintillating beauty, peeking brightly between bended limbs and twigs is a new, bright "star" that twinkles decidedly less. Here lies one of the true beauties of our solar system, Saturn. You can find a map locating Saturn at 10 p.m. this week by going to and clicking on the StarWatch button, then November 2003. Years ago, the Allentown School District sponsored a spring outing at Camp Horseshoe north of the city. I was invited on numerous occasions to present an evening talk, then take the kids observing. It almost always rained or the sky was cloudy. One year, I brought my telescope anyway and set it up with one lonely object shining down upon us. It was Saturn. I remember a young teen coming to the eyepiece. After a short look she pulled her head back and wiped her eyes. Then she looked again. Turning towards me, wide-eyed, she gulped. "It's Saturn. It really does have rings." Soon an unending procession formed with kids returning to the back of the line as soon as they had looked. Such is Saturn's effect.
Saturn debuts in the east this fall. This week it is about one-third of the distance from the horizon to the zenith by 10:00 p.m. Peter K. Detterline at the Fancy Hill Observatory in Fleetwood, PA recently took the Saturn inset, showing the rings tipped nearly fully in our direction. Graphics by Gary A. Becker...

379    NOVEMBER 30, 2003:   Venus in the Southwest
Last week, I spoke about Saturn making its debut in the east. Currently Saturn rises about 6:45 p.m., but give it two or three hours to climb above buildings and trees that might be hugging the eastern horizon. Driving back to school on November 21 for an evening program at the ASD Planetarium where I teach, I spotted what I thought were the landing lights of an approaching aircraft. But Something seemed out of joint. This "star" was just too bright, too close to the horizon, and shining too steadily. Suddenly 35 years of accident free driving were in jeopardy as I tried to maneuver my Tracker to a new location where I could spy this UFO between the leafless branches of roadside trees. I simply wanted to see if was moving, and the branches would act as a reference. No motion was detected, and I quickly realized that I had rediscovered Venus returning into the southwestern sky. Later during the sunset portion of the planetarium program, I watched as student teacher and decade long volunteer, Michael Stump, expertly controlled the equipment to reveal the same Venus that I had just met. Venus is now just starting its rapid climb into the evening sky that will culminate on March 29, 2004 when it will be high in the west after sundown and will set over four hours later. Expect to be able to view Venus through mid-May of next year as it comes around to transit across the sun's disk on June 8. In a few days Mercury will join Venus in the late twilight sky from December 7-15. Look SW about 5:15 p.m. Venus will be spectacular, but you'll probably need binoculars to spot Mercury to the right and below Venus. A map showing the location of Mercury and Venus can be found at the URL below. Click on the StarWatch button.

[Mercury, Venus in SE]

November Star Map

November Moon Phase Calendar