StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

JUNE  2012


Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]
Current Solar X-rays:  
Current Geomagnetic Field:  
Status Current Moon Phase
824    JUNE 3, 2012:   Clear Sky Eclipsed
“I never look at a weather forecast,” says my friend, Jesse Leayman. “What will be will be.” I, on the other hand, ponder through the data trying to get a perspective on the upcoming atmospheric events as if I have some magical power to will the movements of highs and lows into their most favorable positions. When Jesse and I arrived at Chaco Culture near Nageezi, NM for eight nights of camping and to view the May 20 solar eclipse, the long and short range forecasts look very favorable. No sooner had we set up our campsite, then the sky grayed and sheets of rain came cascading over North Mesa, a befitting welcome to a desert park that has had more than its fair share of cloudy nights when I am in residence. But after a sumptuous dinner of cheese dogs, the sky cleared over Gallo Campground revealing a bewildering plethora of stars in the dimming light, and that is the way it stayed for the next eight days and nights. We did have one cloudy afternoon with a raindrop here and there, two dust storms that put a fine layer of grit over everything, but each evening cleared. So you can imagine my trepidations as eclipse day approached with one sunny day after another. It would just have to be cloudy on May 20, but it wasn’t. In fact, e-day had the best weather of our entire stay. Stationed near Casa Rinconada, the largest Ancestral Puebloan kiva at Chaco, Jesse and I watched the slow inexorable movement of the moon courting the sun, the decreasing shadow intensities over a purpling landscape, the cooling of the air as centrality drew near, and the ring of fire surrounding Luna that was created by a smaller moon too far away to hide the sun completely. When Sol finally set behind West Mesa still partially eclipsed, and the landscape began to purple for the second time that day, I realized that this was the first solar eclipse I didn’t have to “chase down” for a clear sky. On that day, the eclipse came to me.

[May 20 Annular Eclipse Composite]
A higher resolution set of these images, including the one below is available as a PowerPoint presentation by e-mailing The file size is 1.2 mbs. All images were photographed by Gary A. Becker from Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi, NM.

[May 20 Eclipse Sunset]
Sunset over West Mesa on May 20, 2012... Photography by Gary A. Becker from Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi, NM.

[Nordgren Poster]
Poster by Tyler Nordgren

825    JUNE 10, 2012:   True Grit
The meal started as a seven out of ten. It ended as an F3. It was a perfect day in Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, near Nageezi, NM. A cool, breezy, sunny day, perfect for hiking and viewing the abandoned towns of the Ancestral Puebloans who were keen observers of the sun and the moon and had flourished here in the San Juan Basin of NW New Mexico 1000 years earlier. During the seven mile loop trail that overlooked major ruins and brought us to several other mesa top remains, the sky grayed and the wind picked up. Virga hung lazily below the clouds, like wispy cotton candy, a testament to rain aloft, but none reaching the ground. When we returned to our campsite around 6 p.m., all was calm and my friend, Jesse Leayman, built a fire and began preparing a steak dinner, complete with crunchy green salad, while I reviewed the day’s photography. I was going to set up my scope for some evening stargazing, but luckily dinner came first. Without warning as we ate, a screeching howl of angry wind tumbled over the mesa that faced our campsite. Whoosh, dust enveloped everything, almost flattening our tent. Jesse and I ran to grab the tent struts, trying to keep the fabric from ripping while leaning our backs into the tempest. For several minutes, waves of dusty air pummeled us, and then suddenly, all became ghostly quiet. Our food had a new dressing, “grit ala true.” Our tent, bags, pillows—everything—had a new feel of “true grit.” After dark the sky rapidly cleared, and Jesse and I reclined against our picnic table deep in conversation under a black vault illuminated by a thousand twinkling points of light. I asked him if he had ever experienced anything like what we had just gone through. Jesse said, “Yes.” I asked, “Where?” He laughed and pointed to his left, “In Chaco, seven years earlier, in the campsite next to ours.”

[Camping in Chaco]
Photography by Gary A. Becker from Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi, NM.

[Camping in Chaco]
Photography by Gary A. Becker from Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi, NM.

[Gail (55) and Richard (57), Evelyn (59) and George (63)]
FEELING THE LOVE from my family on my 62nd birthday.

826    JUNE 17, 2012:   Transit of Love
The alarm was set for 4:15 a.m., but I was awake by three. During my four hours of sleep, I had scraped central Kentucky for Tennessee because getting there would be less time-consuming than driving through mountainous West Virginia. My partner in this odyssey to beat the East Coast weather blues to record the Venus transit, Mark Balanda, lived near Hershey, PA and that was also better suited for TN. Western Ohio was also favored as a triad of “close” locations where the skies would cooperate enough to see the Goddess of Love move across the disk of the sun, the last transit until December 11, 2117, 105.5 years into the future. The “love chase” was on. I left home at 4:30 a.m., was on I-81 with Mark by 6:30 a.m., Roanoke, VA by 11 a.m., and Bristol, TN in the very early afternoon. The sky became broken in southern Virginia with splashes of sunlight scalding the roadway, but it still wasn’t good enough. There were showers in the area. Knoxville, TN was reached by two. The sky looked better, but our goal now seemed to focus on Cookeville. Back into the Appalachia’s, the sinuous route of I-40 now took us, and it was here that the unlikely transition to drier air took place. The clouds became scattered, fair weather Cumulus—friendly, the kind of clouds that decrease near dusk. It was now 3 p.m. CDT. We had two hours to get situated, and there was the exit for Crossville, TN, high on a hill, with lots of motels and adequate vistas, but Mark lobbied for a less pedestrian roadside setting, so we drove to Renegade Mt. to a scenic overlook, set up our equipment, and settled in for the rendezvous of the century. We spotted Venus impinging onto the sun’s limb about 5:05 p.m., then watched and photographed until the sun set behind foreground trees. Was the 1400 mile roundtrip clear sky chase worth it? Mark and I saw the real deal. You bet it was!

[Transit from Crossville, TN]
Last Transit: After leaving Coopersburg, PA at 4:30 a.m. in search of clear skies, Mark Balanda and I wound up in Crossville, TN about 3 p.m. We found a viewing area, the sky cleared, and the clockwork heavens produced the last Venus transit until December 11, 2117. I guess you could say we were chasing after the Goddess of Love and found her on a mountaintop. Composite photography by Gary A. Becker, using a Questar 3.5-inch Maksutov telescope on an equatorially driven mount...

[Mark Balanda]
Mark Balanda of Palmyra. PA gets prepared for another round of transit image-taking on Renegade Mountain near Crossville, Tennessee. The fresh blue sky in the background was the final chapter in our successful chase to see the last transit of Venus in this century. Gary A. Becker image...

[Gary A. Becker]
"The thrill of victory is sweet": (Left insert) "Where's the sun. Where's the sun," quips Becker jokingly after a full day of driving. The smiles tell it all in our successful quest to see the last Venus transit for the next 105 years. Mark Balanda images...

827    JUNE 24, 2012:   A Dewar's Sky
Astronomy and alcohol, there has got to be an affiliation. I’m joking, of course, but when giving a constellation program, it almost seems natural to consider that the ancients must have been under the influence of an herb or a brew when they charted some of the weird arrangement of stars that create our 88 modern constellations. And that’s not considering the dozens of patterns in the southern sky that were “forged” from the technological minds of early European explorers. So when Jesse Leayman and I ventured into Aztec, NM last month to pick up supplies while exploring the ruins of Chaco Culture, Jesse thought it appropriate to test this theory by picking up a bottle of Dewar’s to comfort us under the stars of our campsite. Jesse noted that a good scotch should be sipped slowly over ice from fine crystal glasses. Obviously, we had none of that at Chaco, but we did have the Dewar’s, two confiscated plastic cups from a Holiday Inn Express, and a sturdy wood-like picnic table which faced southward over North Mesa to some of the more obscure spring constellations. It was good enough for the experiment. Jesse poured. We sipped unhurriedly in the cooling night air, imagining the Dewar’s cut by cubes of glistening ice. Pleasantly the Dewar’s sky emerged plainly in front of us. There was the long sinuous body of Hydra the Water Serpent, the largest constellation of them all. On his back was balanced Crater the Cup which held the clear spring waters from Apollo’s favorite lake, and to Crater’s left, Corvus, the crow who defied the Sun God and was forever banished to the Snake’s back. To Hydra’s left were the difficult to understand patterns of Centaurus the Centaur and Lupus the Wolf, but to their left rose the magnificent Scorpion along with the Milky Way. Honestly, the Dewar’s didn’t help a bit, but it sure provided us with a pleasant night’s rest and some sweet, sweet dreams.

[Milky Way over Gallo Campground-Chaco]
The Milky Way rises over Gallo Campground in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi, NM: Don't get the false impression that Dewar's scotch played any part in why this image appears just a little fuzzy. The elongated star trails were created by the Earth's rotation. Gary A. Becker image...

[June Star Map]

[June Moon Phase Calendar]