StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

JUNE  2002


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[Moon Phases]


301   JUNE 2, 2002:    Eclipse Obscurus
The solar eclipse occurring late Monday, June 10 will not be visible from the Lehigh Valley, but it will be a noteworthy event for individuals in the Pacific and Southwestern US. Thinking about my good fortune to be in New Mexico on that day, I thought about other Lehigh Valley residents who might be in suitable locations to witness this event. The eclipse centerline straddles the International Date Line. It begins in the western Pacific at sunrise on June 11, and ends at sunset on the western Mexican coast on June 10. This is an annular eclipse. Although the center of the moon passes in front of the center of the sun, the moonís apparent angular size in the sky will not allow it to cover the sun completely. Instead observers positioned on or near the centerline will witness a ring, or annulus, of sunlight surrounding the moon during the central phases of the eclipse. Viewing an eclipse of the sun can be dangerous. As Yoda in Star Wars might say, "Eclipse observing without proper filters, you do, always leads to the dark side." Your best bet would be to borrow a pair of Mylar solar glasses used in a previous Valley eclipse. The ASD Planetarium marketed thousands of them during the past decade. You can also drill 1/16-inch holes into a piece of cardboard and project the images of the sun onto a white piece of cardboard held about two feet away. Each drill hole will produce a slightly fuzzy image of the eclipse. Cities, along with times and percentages of greatest coverage, are listed below: Minneapolis, MN (8:08 p.m. 29%); St. Louis, MO (8:14 p.m. 39%); Albuquerque, NM (7:22 p.m. 63%); Denver, CO (7:16 p.m. 51%); Phoenix, AZ (6:23 p.m. 72%); Los Angeles, CA (6:22 p.m. 77%); Seattle, WA (6:04 p.m. 48%); and Honolulu, HI (2:42 p.m. 52%).


302   JUNE 9, 2002:    Digital Revolution
Since the late 60s, astronomers have had techniques which have allowed them to image the night sky electronically. The beautiful photographs returned by Hubble are recorded on a highly light sensitive charged-coupled device (CCD) chip, digitized, and radioed to Earth to be reassembled into the astonishing pictures that we see. Amateur astronomers began participating in the digital revolution in the early 90s as chips became less expensive and more readily available. It is still an expensive hobby with cameras running into the multiple thousands of dollars and a newer and better chip always beyond the next horizon. The same can be said for the consumer and prosumer digital markets which are less suited for astronomical photography, but continuously improving. Since last summer, most of the images that have been posted in web StarWatch are digital, taken with either a Kodak 260 or 290 camera. Some of the images needed extensive manipulation after they were downloaded, but they worked. I still had my emulsion camera clicking away, but the results were usually disappointing. Color balance was skewed and contrast levels too high as compared to the digital images which were immediate and could be compared with the authentic scene right in front of me. I have since advanced to an Olympus E20N which allows time exposures of up to eight minutes, 60 seconds with a dark frame. The dark frame contains the unwanted noise of the chip and is automatically subtracted from the picture, producing a smoother image. If your digital camera can take exposures greater than a few seconds, youíll be amazed at the results which can be achieved with the use of a tripod and a little experimentation. See my E20N images taken since May at web StarWatch.

[Digital Revolution]
The Digital Revolution is Here: In just a few years low light digital photography has gone from Okay to spectacular. The photo on the right was made with a one-year old Kodak 290 in 2001, while the image on the left was shot with a new Olympus E20N in May 2002. Gary A. Becker photos...

[Digital Revolution]
Strange Landscape: The most prominent geographical feature in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, near Nageezi, NM is Fajada Butte. Here it is seen under the light of a waxing gibbous moon in this 60 second digital image taken with an Olympus E60N camera. The small triangle of stars above and slightly to the left of Fajada represents the head of Lupus, the Wolf, a constellation that is unseen from the hazier, more northern skies of the Middle Atlantic states. Gary A. Becker photo...


303   JUNE 16, 2002:    Witnessing Summer
The summer solstice occurs on Friday at 9:23 a.m. EDT when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky for the northern hemisphere. The word solstice means sun standstill, when our daystar momentary pauses, neither moving north or south in its annual circuit around the sky. For most of us the solstice merely means reading about the event in a column such as this one, and realizing that summertime has just begun. Today, being an eyewitness to the solstice is difficult, but this was not the case for the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in what is now Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Nageezi, NM. Observing the extreme positions of sunrise and sunset against craggy canyon tops was one technique, but there were other methods which were far more sophisticated. Take for instance, Casa Rinconada, which was a circular ceremonial room built around 1075 AD. More commonly referred to as a kiva or great kiva, Rinconada was precisely aligned to the cardinal directions, north, south, east, and west. A south-facing antechamber had two doorways which were aligned east and west. On equinox day an observer could stand just outside the western doorway and watch the sun rising precisely at the base of South Mesa. But the summer solstice alignment was probably the most sophisticated. The rising sun shown obliquely through a window, casting a narrow sliver of light onto the curved wall of the kiva. As the sun gained altitude moving toward the south, the sun splash moved downward and towards the north to settle briefly into a small niche, a beautiful and distinctive representation of this special time. It is arguable that reconstruction may have altered or even created the alignment, but it is difficult to dispute the visual impact of this dramatic event. Let summer begin!


304   JUNE 23, 2002:    Astronomy Along I-40
The Southwest abounds in astronomical attractions, perhaps the best one being the sky itself. On a clear moonless summer night away from city lights, as many as 1500 stars can be glimpsed, including a talcum powdery Milky Way arching high overhead after midnight. Interstate 40 connects many of these attractions, and the stretch of road between Albuquerque and Flagstaff is my favorite. South of Albuquerque, NM is the Very Large Array, 52 miles west of Socorro on US 60. Twenty-seven radio telescopes survey the sky, day and night, and you can see them in action, as well as walk among a few of them. Part of the movie "Contact" was filmed here. Northwest of Albuquerque, near Nageezi, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, offers the only Park Service operated public observatory. Programs are offered on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. In addition, Chaco contains dozens of astronomical sites which were used 1000 years ago by the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited this region. One of the most famous locations is the pictograph panel depicting the great supernova explosion of 1054 AD. Casa Rinconada, the astronomically aligned great kiva at Chaco, was discussed last week. Farther west along I-40 lies the small town of Winslow, AZ. Youíll find Meteor Crater, 26 miles west of town, a spectacular mile-sized hole punched into the ground 50,000 years ago by a 100 yard nickel-iron meteorite. More about MC in a few weeks. Finally, I could not forget the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ where Percival Lowell developed his theories about Martian canals and life on the Red Planet. Pluto was also discovered here in 1930. Lowell Observatory is open every night except Sundays during the summer. Happy trails.


305   JUNE 30, 2002:    Touching the Sky
I am on a Rocky Mountain high. Students, Brandon Velivis (Allen-2000), Sylvia Toth (Dieruff-2003), and Ryan Hannahoe (Schuylkill Valley-2004) are with me at the invitation Dr. Bob Stencel of Denver University. Weíre at DUís High Altitude Observatory Lodge on Mt. Evans, 11,000 feet above sea level and 56 miles SW of the city. After a tedious day of driving, monkey man Velivis starts a pillow fight and Iím viciously attacked by him and 270 pound Ryan. After countless counterattacks, and Hannahoe bear hugs, I am defeated by the thin alpine air amidst a crescendo of adolescent laughter. But that is nothing compared to my two nights of arctic freeze and even thinner air at the summit of 14,260 foot Mt. Evans where DU maintains the second highest astronomical research facility in the world. I am now above 40 percent of Earthís atmosphere. Here the superb twin 28-inch binocular reflectors provide the most spectacular views of the heavens that I have ever seen. It is not just the light-gathering ability of the telescopes that is impressive, but every aspect of the instrumentís design has been optimized for superior viewing. Interestingly enough, the moon impresses me most. A tour along the sunrise terminator reveals lava flows with elevation differences of less than 100 feet and crater walls casting distinct and jagged 50 to 100 mile shadows across the bleak lunar landscape, all with crystal clarity. For a brief moment Iím in command of my own spacecraft, flying low over lunar plains, dipping and swooping into countless craters to explore their craggy topographies. I can now for the first time truly appreciate Buzz Aldrinís comment of "magnificent desolation" to describe the lunar landscape as he stood on the moonís surface with Neil so long ago.


June Star Map

June Moon Phase Calendar