StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

JUNE  2022


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

[Moon Phases]


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1346    June 5, 2022:   Tau Herculids: I Drove All Night
One of my absolute favorite music videos is Céline Dion in concert singing, "I Drove All Night" (here). When I’m watching it, I’m not part of the audience waving my hands back and forth imitating the fast tempo of the music, but I’m Céline, wondering what it must feel like to hold captive 30,000 people who have come from hundreds of miles to see me, and then giving them the adrenalin rush of their lives. • As a teacher who is starting his fifth decade in front of students in the fall, I normally return from class on the evenings that I teach with a mini-Céline rush. My students aren't waving their hands back and forth to the tempo of my teaching, but the rush is nevertheless real. It usually takes two to three hours and a glass of red wine to calm me down before my 1 a.m.-2 a.m. crash time. • In a real sense I was Céline Dion, pumped about the Tau Herculid meteor shower that I witnessed on the evening and morning of May 30/31. No, there wasn't a storm, a thousand or more meteors visible per hour, but there is no doubt in my mind that the shower existed and was active, and I and others witnessed it for the first time. In a three-hour stretch of continuous observing, I viewed 17 Tau Herculids radiating very near to the bright star, Arcturus. About six of them were bright, Big Dipper stars bright to brighter than Arcturus, the brightest star north of the celestial equator and the radiant from which the meteors were diverging. As predicted, they were slow, taking their time to traverse relatively short distances before they ablated (disintegrated) in Earth's atmosphere. I remember seeing one orange meteor low in the south, and my good friend Bill Jacobs, living in Wellfleet, Cape Cod, commented that he had seen the most orange meteor of his observing career. He saw eight Tau Herculids in a 45-minute observing stretch. • Most of the shower events were singular, one meteor at a time with a substantial break of activity in between them, but two Tau Herculids burned in close to each other and virtually at the same time. That’s an indication that they may have come from the same particle which broke up in orbit, a phenomenon in meteor science known as “bunching.” • When Moravian astronomer, Peter K. Detterline in Douglasville, PA analyzed his meteor camera data, his numbers totaled 34 Tau Herculids: 15 from 11 p.m.-midnight, EDT; 9 from midnight to 1 a.m.; 6 from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m.; 3 from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. and 1 Tau Herculid from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. See an image of a Tau Herculid meteor that Pete caught (here). • The Tau Herculids originate from periodic Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, a small disintegrating, dirty snowball, less than a mile wide, which suffered major disruptions when it rounded the sun in 1995. It orbits Sol every 5.4 years and comes nearest to the Earth every 16 years. The fact that 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 was literally falling apart gave credence for the meteor storm, but like so many events, it was overplayed by some professionals as well as the media. It would have been better to plan for the worst and hope for the best. The worst would have been a “no show,” with the cometary dross missing the Earth completely. However having said that, keen observers from all over the US and the world witnessed a minor meteor event, but the first meteor shower from this comet, a Céline Dion moment for amateurs and professionals, with the stars silently cheering us on. Ad Astra!

[Tau Herculid Meteor-Peter K. Detterline]
A Tau Herculid meteor ablates in the morning sky of May 31. Image by Peter K. Detterline...

1347    June 12, 2022:   Dawn Sky Hails all the Planets
I remember vividly an event called the grand alignment of the planets when I was teaching at Kutztown University in the fall of 1981. All of them, including Pluto which was a planet back then, were found on either side of the sun in the evening and morning sky; their mutual gravitational pulls were going to upset the geological structure of the Earth, causing earthquakes and general chaos with the environment. Doomsayers were all agog with predictions about the end of the World as we knew it. • Since we are all still here, observing our planet getting warmer, I'm surprised that conspiracy theorists have not been hyping the current alignment of the planets, including Pluto, and the moon in the morning sky. • There was a dress rehearsal of this event in April of this year when Jupiter, Neptune, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Pluto, including the moon, were all found in the morning sky. Luna wandered through the grouping between April 22 through the 27th. • If that grouping impressed you, and I did get several emails from people who got up to view this event, get ready for the really big grouping occurring right now across the entire sky. Yes, if the world is coming to an end, this week is certainly worth considering. • The lineup of planets is truly spectacular and bound to affect the humors of anyone who believes that the predictions of astrology shape their lives. THEY DON’T. From NNE to SW, here is the roster of actors: Mercury, Venus, Uranus, in the east; Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn in the mid-sky; and Pluto in the southwest. Even the Earth’s umbra (shadow) gets into the act just a few degrees away from the moon on June 14, but there is no lunar eclipse that will be taking place. Just in case you’ve realized that I only mentioned seven planets, make sure you look down at your feet to view the Earth. • I’ll be seeing this event from Utah because my friend Pete Detterline and I will be reviewing the operation of Moravian’s robotic telescope at the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah. That should make for a fun experience because the location has nearly flawless horizons. • You will need good NNE and SW horizons and be outside about 45 minutes before sunrise if you want to partake of the entire spectacle. The planetary positions will essentially remain the same, so I will detail how the moon will travel among them. Also remember that Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus are too faint to be seen with the unaided eye.
June 15: Moon is near the SW horizon.
June 16: Pluto is to the left of the Moon.
June 18: Saturn is above and left of the Moon.
June 20: Neptune is above and left of the Moon.
June 21: Jupiter is above and left of the Moon.
June 22: Mars is to the left of the Moon.
June 24: Uranus is to the left of the Moon.
June 26: Venus is below and right of the Moon.
June 27: Mercury is below and right of the Moon.
It should be a fun two weeks if you are willing to lose a little sleep watching the grand marshal, the moon, give tribute to all the planets and Pluto in the morning sky. See the sky map. Ad Astra!

[Moon Wanders Past all of the Planets]
Map by Gary A. Becker using Software Bisques' The Sky...

1348    June 19, 2022:   The Chambliss Award
It has always fascinated me how people can come into your lives and willingly change them for the better or the worse. I am sure that everyone has examples of good and bad angels making or ruining her or his "day." • My day was nearly ruined in 1993 when the Allentown School District superintendent, Dr. Diane Scott, and the majority of school directors decided to close the ASD Planetarium where I had taught for 22 years. Conveying district students to and from the facility, housed at Dieruff High School, cost too much money according to them, and the planetarium had to be closed to save that transportation capital. They, en masse were the bad angels, but not all of them, just five of the nine directors and the superintendent. • The planetarium wasn't shuttered because of a tidal wave of public support that inundated their strategy. Literally, thousands of letters written by school children prompted by their teachers, including angry citizens and students speaking at board meetings backing the continuance of the planetarium made an impact. • Two board supporters, Thomas Ruhe and James R. LeVan, stepped forward to convince another director, Dr. Willard S. Clewell, Jr. to change his negative vote. It worked. The tally was a five to four victory to save my classroom under the stars, but there was a catch. I had to raise the necessary funds to keep the facility open. People from all parts of Allentown and the greater Lehigh Valley came forward with donations, and within a week, I presented the ASD Board with a check for $8000. During the next 17 years before my retirement in the spring of 2010, and my move to Moravian University, I raised $170,000 to keep the stars shining for our city kids in the ASD. I’m proud of that fact, and I will always be eternally grateful for the public support which kept the program operational and successful. • About 20 percent of those funds, $33,000 to be exact, came from a single supporter, Dr. Carlson R. Chambliss, a Harvard/University of Pennsylvania graduate in astronomy, and my professor when I studied for my undergraduate degree at Kutztown University. When I transitioned from public education to Moravian in 2010, Carlson's generosity followed. He continued to support my goals to improve astronomy education at Moravian, providing about half of the funding that refurbished the observing area on the rooftop of the Collier Hall of Science, now known as the Sky Deck, and another $10,000 to help fund Moravian's 25 percent usage of the robotic observatory at the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah. • Having done all that, Carlson in 2019, upon my suggestion, decided to fund a medal for the top graduating student in the Natural Sciences, the C. R. Chambliss Award for Excellence in the Sciences. Carlson was not new to this concept. He had funded similar successful award projects for Kutztown University and the American Astronomical Society, the latter of which has become immensely popular with undergraduate astronomy students. Just Google AAS Chambliss Awards. • I played a role in designing the Moravian medal, 8 troy ounces of brushed .999 silver containing the hallmark symbols of our school, Comenius Hall, John Amos Comenius, and the Moravian Star. • The Chambliss Medal travelled a long, long road from conception to completion, particularly because of COVID and the ensuing shutdowns at Moravian. Charles Stueck of the Medalcraft Mint in Green Bay, Wisconsin oversaw its production from the initial computer drawings provided by Edith Gutierrez-Hawbaker of Moravian’s Design Team to the final dies that were used in the creation of the medal itself. I believe that it truly symbolizes the heart and soul of the Moravian community, and particularly, the University. Rather than describing it, go here to see the final Chambliss Medal that will be presented to the top science student in the spring of 2023. It will be an annual award. • Thank you so much, Dr. Chambliss, for your support of the Natural Sciences at Moravian University and for your willingness to contribute to its success and mine as well. Ad Astra!

[The C. R. Chambliss Award]
Images supplied by the Medalcraft Mint, Green Bay, Wisconsin...

1349    June 26, 2022:   Moravian's Robotic Observatory Working Again
Driving cross-country has always had an appeal to me over flying. Yes, the days can be long, and many times the roads are congested, at least east of Chicago. Yet there is something special about watching the country gradually change from the mountains of western Pennsylvania to the expansive farmlands of Indiana, Iowa corn and wind turbines west of Des Moines, the drying of the land as Nebraska is traversed, and the first sighting of the Rockies in Colorado, especially with John Denver playing in the background. Trails such as these made by American pioneers took months to traverse by wagon and by foot, but with my Jeep can now be completed in just a few days. Watching these changes from the air just does not have the same impact. • What prompted this trip to Utah with my good friend, Peter Detterline? We were finally getting our first chance since COVID to visit the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, where Moravian University has a 25 percent timeshare in MDRS's robotic observatory. The site has two astronomical facilities, one donated by SpaceX's, Elon Musk, which is dedicated to viewing the sun in hydrogen alpha, a specific wavelength of light that hydrogen gas produces when made to fluoresce in a low-pressure environment, and a robotic observatory which houses two telescopes in tandem, a widefield 70 mm refractor for taking artistic pictures of the heavens and a 14-inch, F/11, Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector dedicated for research. Moravian owns the larger scope and the mount that goes with it. You can see an image of those telescopes being serviced as well as a few other pictures from MDRS here. • During the past two years as COVID raged, computers and filter wheels malfunctioned, and software became obsolete and needed updating. The observatory stopped functioning. Pete handled the technical aspects of the refit, along with Deep Space Products owner, Ed Thomas from Phoenix, who made a special trip to Hanksville to help our group. My nephew, Ryan Kloss, who lives in Ogden, Utah and I acted as photographers and janitors, cleaning the layers of dust that had accumulated from two years of sporadic use in a climate that has extremes of seasonal heat and cold, as well as hurricane force windstorms where you are literally eating dust. • However, it is the dark skies that are the real attraction to this site. Around 10:30 p.m. on our first night at MDRS, the fat waning gibbous moon broke the horizon, an orange orb that quickly gained altitude and changed from yellow to a cream white, casting distinct shadows, revealing the redness of the rocks, and creating a daylight appearance to some of my astrophotography that was surreal. Its light certainly aided in the work being completed on the robotic observatory. However, what fascinated me the most was my observation around 3 a.m. Luna was in the south, bright and distinct, and yet the visible stars were still in much greater abundance than those I can observe from my backyard on a transparent, moonless night. The Hanksville site is not the darkest sky that I have ever witnessed. That occurred in Australia, but it's a very close second, plus it's here in the United States. Light pollution has not yet come to Hanksville. Oh, and Moravian's robotic observatory? It's working again, ready for the fall semester. Ad Astra!

[Robotic Observatory]
Peter Detterline (Moravian University) and Ed Thomas (Deep Space Products) work to restore the MDRS Robotic Observatory to full functionality. Moravian University owns the larger of the two telescopes tandemly mounted along with a 70mm refractor and has a 25 percent timeshare in their usage. The yellow in the picture is the result of the moonrise which was just minutes away. Gary A. Becker image, Hanksville, Utah...

[Planets on Parade]
Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the moon appear in this June 16 dawn portrait taken just after 5 a.m. at the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah. Gary A. Becker image...

[Inside the Airlock at MDRS]
Ryan Kloss stands inside one of the long airlocks that connect various parts of the Mars Desert Research Station to each other. When participants in the MDRS simulation exercises need to move to different locations in the station, they do not have to wear their spacesuits when in the airlocks. Otherwise in all other circumstances, spacesuits must be worn. The location of this photograph was near the Musk Observatory which is dedicated to observing the sun. Gary A. Becker image...

[June Star Map]

[June Moon Phase Calendar]