StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MARCH  2008


Print Large Sky Charts For 9 p.m. EST:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]
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[February 20 Total Lunar Eclipse]

602    MARCH 2, 2008:   Daylight Saving Time
Imagine the confusion there would be if every town kept its own local time based upon the motion of the (mean) sun. Not only would the travel time need to be calculated, but one would have to add or subtract the change in time based upon whether the travel direction was west (subtract) or east (add). The use of the telegraph and rail transportation caused the US government in 1883 to divide the nation into four time zones with whole hours being added or subtracted when journeying from one zone to the next. Each zone, Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific kept the mean solar time of a standard meridian, 75, 90, 105, and 120 degrees west longitude, respectively. In 1884, an international convention held in Washington D.C. established the same model for the world, with Greenwich, England becoming the official Prime Meridian. For mid-latitude locales, summer sunrises still occurred while most people slept and sunsets coincided with waking hours. William Willett, an English homebuilder in London, conceived and promoted the concept of Daylight Saving Time in 1907 with his publication, titled "The Waste of Daylight.” Willett conceived advancing the clocks by 20 minutes on successive Sundays in April for a total of 80 minutes, and moving the clocks back by the same amount on successive Sundays in September. He calculated that by making this adjustment £2.5 million in lighting costs could be saved by the British public. Although his ideas met with Parliamentary champions, it wasn’t until May of 1916, a year after Willett’s death, that British Summer Time was enacted. Clocks were moved ahead by one hour. Most of the US springs forward to DST next Sunday at 2 a.m., Willett’s original time of the day for advancing or retarding the clocks.

[William Willett promoted Daylight Saving Time]
William Willett (1856-1915), center, introduced the concept of daylight saving time to the British public in 1907. It wasn't until May 1916, however, that British Summer Time was enacted by Parliament as a means of increasing production during WW I. On either side of the Willett photo (1909-Benjamin Stone Collection) is a sundial constructed in memory of Willett which keeps daylight saving time year round. It can be found in Petts Wood near London (images by P. Ingerson). All photos are public domain.

603    MARCH 9, 2008:   The Great Leap into Spring
Last week, my wife and I returned from a short ride in the country in search of yet another unobstructed hilltop from which I could photograph the evening sky. We found a real beauty, about six miles from our home with a sweeping distant panoramic horizon that would let me image setting objects from the southwest to the northwest. There were no “for sale” signs on the winter worn rolling farmland, so I am hopeful that this acreage will remain arable for many years into the future. Upon returning home in deep twilight, the air was cool and moist, with an unmistakable scent of spring, an earthy vegetative aroma that heightened my expectations and excitement for the warmer days that lie ahead. As you read this article, we are on the cusp of that great leap into spring. If you haven’t noticed the increase in daylight or the feeling of warmth when standing under the higher sun in a blue-drenched sky, it will become obvious at some point in the next several weeks. During the next 30 days the noontime sun will climb an incredible 12 degrees higher in the sky, from 45 degrees on March 9 to 57 degrees by April 9 for Lehigh Valley residents located at 40 degrees north of the equator. People who live north or south of the Valley will experience the same change in the altitude of the sun, but for every degree south or north of the Valley, the starting altitude of the sun at noon will be a degree higher or lower, respectively. The other remarkable change will be in the amount of daylight experienced. On March 9 we will receive 11 hours, 40 minutes of sun. By April 9 this daylight period will have extended itself by one hour, 24 minutes to 13 hours, 4 minutes. This increase will be greater for northern locations and slightly less in more southerly locales. The great leap into spring is about to begin, and I am ready.

604    MARCH 16, 2008:   Spring Finally Springs
When psychologists say that opposites attract, they must have had my wife and me in mind. I’m a spring and summer kind of a guy, while my wife, Susan, revels in the fall and winter. A prelude to “my time” came last week when most of the US switched to Daylight Saving Time, and our clocks sprung ahead, in some cases automatically if you owned an atomic clock receiving signals from Fort Collins, Colorado. On Thursday we make another big switch. In the dance of our tilted world orbiting the sun, our daystar sweeps from being overhead south of the equator to being overhead north of the equator. The exact moment of Sol’s equatorial crossing will happen on Thursday at 1:48 a.m. EDT, and it is called the first moment of spring. Thursday’s sunrise will find Sol ever so slightly to the north of east. Just over 12 hours later, the sun will set slightly to the north of west. Spring will be the last complete season that school will be in session, which, of course, will depress all educators, but set students to thinking gleefully about senior skip days, refreshing water balloon fights, hormonal hassles over girlfriends and boyfriends, and all of the other glorious events which lead up to the solemnity of final exams and graduation. The bonus to “spring week” is Easter which falls unusually early this year. The rules for calculating Christ’s resurrection are as follows. It is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the moon (almost full) after the vernal equinox. As mentioned before, spring occurs early Thursday morning, the moon is full at 2:39 p.m. Friday, which causes Easter to fall on this coming Sunday. For educators, after the Spring Break, it’s an incredibly long haul to Memorial Day, and for my wife who loves the cold, a double whammy, as we move towards the heat, the humidity, and the mosquitoes of the summer months.

605    MARCH 23, 2008:   Robert Brown
I had just signed a contract to teach at Broughal Junior H.S. in Bethlehem. It was the early summer of 1972, and I was fresh from college graduation. When I got home, there was a message waiting for me. The assistant director of the Allentown School District Planetarium, Richard Garger, had just been promoted to assistant principal of Dieruff H.S., and there was a vacancy at the planetarium. I interviewed the following morning and by evening I had teaching jobs in both cities. I shall always be grateful to Dr. Bill Sharkan, Personnel Director in Bethlehem, who knew of my avid interests in astronomy and released me to Allentown. That is where I met Robert (Mike) Brown, the ASD Planetarium’s first director, and began a wonderful association which lasted through the spring of 1978. Mike was a biology teacher at Dieruff who was championed for the “machine seat” when the ASD Planetarium first opened in September of 1965, and he was meticulous about its operation and maintenance. With Sputnik and other Soviet space firsts nagging at America’s conscience, Robert Brown was nearly worked to death in those first years. Everyone wanted a program, and so an assistant was hired. When I came on board in 1972, the program was a smooth running operation with a master craftsman at the helm who was willing to share his knowledge and also incorporate my ideas into the program. That taught me a lot about leadership and teaching. Be yourself, but listen to the suggestions of the people around you. Observe. Learn from your students as you try to educate them. Be kind to others. Say thank you. Robert Brown, along with his wife, Mary, came for a visit to the ASD Planetarium this past leap year day. You’ll find his picture in the web edition of this StarWatch article at the URL below.

[Robert Brown (l) First ASDP Director]
Robert Brown (right) the first director of the Allentown School District Planetarium (1965-78) visits with Gary A. Becker and first graders from Parkway Manor Elementary this past leap year day. Brown's daughter, Mary Kate, teaches first grade at Parkway Manor along with Kathleen Monahan whose idea got everyone together, including Robert's wife, Mary. Photo by Gary A. Becker...

606    MARCH 30, 2008:   The Heavens Declare the Glory of Spring
We are at my favorite time of the year. You can feel the tantalizing warmth in the cool air which is beginning to heat after six months of low sun. The maple trees in Allentown and on my Coopersburg property are showing their first vermillion tease in the three-week process of forming leaves. Soon there will be days of vibrant green landscapes accented against turquoise skies, also a tease to the grayer, more humid days of summer. Even if my view of the blossoming universe were only skyward, I would know that spring was in the air. I have waited and watched for so long as the Big Dipper scratched its way across the wind-whipped trees of my northern horizon to begin its ascent into the vernal heavens. You’ll find the Drinking Gourd at first dark, handle down, cup up, its top luminaries, Dubhe and Merak, striking leftwards towards the humbly bright but steady North Star. Looking right from the pointers will allow the eye to gaze upon two bright starlike objects. The upper whitish diamond is Regulus of Leo the Lion, while the lower brighter citrine luminary will twinkle less, a giveaway to the verity that it is not a star at all, but a planet, in this case the ringed world of Saturn. During April, Saturn will inch towards Regulus so that by month’s end, it will be positioned only four lunar diameters from the Lion’s heart. April will also mark the last month in which the rings can be easily observed with a small telescope. As we continue to watch Saturn in upcoming years, the rings will narrow as we view the planet more and more in its ring plane. It won’t be until 2011 before the rings are again as easily seen as now. Returning to the Big Dipper a few hours later, you’ll be able to follow the sweep of its curved handle across the sky to red Arcturus and blue Spica, the truest harbingers of spring in the April sky.

[March Star Map]

[March Moon Phase Calendar]