StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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[Moon Phases]


319    OCTOBER 6, 2002:   Leonids to Blaze
I am excited "again" about the prospects for viewing another magnificent Leonid meteor storm, especially coming on the heels of last year's prediction and spectacular display. The dates to mark in your planners are Monday evening November 18 starting at 11 p.m. through Tuesday morning November 19 right into dawn. The first major spurt of activity for the East Coast is predicted for 11 p.m. EST just as the area from which the meteors are radiating is just rising. Western Europe is favored, but we will catch some of the activity should it develop. The second burst of meteors could be very big, occurring at 5:00 a.m. EST, which puts us squarely in the middle of the bull's eye. Rates may exceed 100 shooting stars per hour prior to midnight, then dip slightly for a few hours only to regain strength to 500 or more meteors per hour just prior to dawn. Just like last year, some meteors should be seen well into deep twilight when it would be possible to read the print of this article. The big downer for this night of the falling stars is the moon, which will be nearly full and in the sky until twilight. The upside of this event is that the Leonids are swift and can be very bright with numerous spectacular fireballs. I am sure readers remember the extraordinary sights from last year. Adam Jones of Allentown, viewing north of the city, saw 1200 Leonids in the two hours preceding dawn. The meteor rates quoted in this article reflect the detrimental effects of the nearly full moon. In subsequent articles, I'll be writing about meteor observing techniques, photographing the Leonids and why the Leonids can produce such a spectacular display. In the meantime do what you can to get at least part of Tuesday, November 19 off to recuperate from the night's celestial fireworks.

320    OCTOBER 13, 2002:   Catch a Falling Star
The night of Monday, Nov. 18 into the dawn of Tuesday, Nov. 19 promises to be filled with shooting stars. See the October 6 StarWatch on the ASD Planetarium's website for a general rundown of the 2002 Leonid meteor shower. Photographing Leonids this year is not going to be your standard nighttime star-snapping event because the moon will be nearly full and flooding the sky with light. Exposures will have to be relatively short, probably no more than one minute, so you'll be consuming more film if you want to capture some of the brilliant fireballs of the evening. For reasons of aesthetics, I use black and white films when shooting meteors near city lights. This avoids color shifts due to inherent film characteristics, and you will never have to worry about light pollution which creates unacceptable background hues. My b/w film of choice is Kodak Tri-X, either exposed at its standard speed of ISO 400 or pushed one stop to ISO 800. I've never had real success photographing meteors using the Kodak T-max products which can be much faster, but seem to record fewer meteors. If you insist on color print emulsions, I would suggest Fujicolor 400 or 800-speed film. Keep in mind that you will need a camera that has a bulb or time setting, a tripod, cable release, and a relatively fast lens. I normally shoot at F/2.8 to produce more even field illumination and to cut down on lens aberrations. For the digital aficionados who possess cameras that will take time-lapse images of 15 seconds or more, why not simply attach your camera to a tripod and let it do the work while you enjoy the show? Orionid meteors will be flying on the mornings of October 20 and October 21, a good time to practice since the moon will be at or near its maximum brightness.

321    OCTOBER 20, 2002:   Whizzing Exhalations
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Brutus reads various notes penned by Cassius "in several hands" thrown into his window in support of the conspiracy to murder Caesar. "The exhalations whizzing in the air give so much light that I might read them," Brutus muses. This personification refers to the trails (exhalations) left by bright meteors. Since it was March, even by Rome's more temperate climate, Brutus should have been all bundled up. For our long, cold, Leonid meteor night, under dressing is not an option. The evening of Nov. 18 into the morning of Nov. 19 is the prime viewing period when as many as 500 meteors per hour could be visible by dawn. Here are some tips for staying warm. Concentrate on keeping the head, hands, and feet comfortable. An uncovered head is a recipe for disaster because as much as 60 percent of all body heat can be lost through the skull. Wear several balaclavas, a tight-hugging one over the head as a first layer and another one that fits more loosely as a second layer. If you wear glasses, do not cover your mouth or nose because moisture from breathing will soon begin to fog your lenses. Get the whole head covered right down to the neck. Add a scarf for extra protection. Since your hands need to remain flexible for writing, holding flashlights, and advancing film, wear single layer fleece gloves. Consider boot liners over your thermal socks, in addition to several layers of polypropylene and a heavy fleece layer topped with a down jacket. Now stuff yourself into a sleeping bag on a foam mattress, and don't forget the pillow. If this sounds excessive, remember your raucous exaltations over whizzing exhalations won't generate much heat, and you'll soon find yourself retreating to a much warmer clime.

322    OCTOBER 27, 2002:   All Hallows Eve
Our lives and activities are regulated by the sky much more than we realize. Take Halloween for instance. Recently in my Allen homeroom, Daniel Hernandez was trying to convince Jose Huezo to visit a haunted house in New Jersey near Philadelphia where 20 bucks allowed one access to 20 floors of terror. Each level survived netted the participant a dollar in return. According to Hernandez no one had ever made it past floor 18, but his goal was to get at least half of his money back. Huezo was psyched, but wasn't so sure that he could get permission from his parents to make the trip. It is no coincidence that Christians celebrate Christmas near the winter solstice, and that the moon and the moment of spring help us to arrive at the date of Easter. Knowing the times when the solstices and equinoxes occurred were important events that helped shape our secular and religious lives. To the Celts of Ireland and Britain, the times between these extremes and midpoints of the sun were also sacred. The most important of these festivals was Samhain (pronounced sow-en), when the veil between the realms of the living and the dead thinned so that the spirits of the departed could pass freely and walk among the breathing. At this time, people wore costumes made from animal skins to avoid recognition by these prowling fairies. Farmers presented gifts of warm milk and bread at the entrances to their homes to appease their hunger and keep these unwanted spirits from entering and causing mischief. Samhain inaugurated the season of darkness, the time of the low sun. Because the Celts began each new day at sunset, when this holiday eventually became Christianized, it became known as All Hallows (holy) Eve, which was further shortened to our Halloween.

October Star Map

October Moon Phase Calendar