StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MARCH  2010


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

[Moon Phases]
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Status Current Moon Phase
707    MARCH 7, 2010:   Saving Some Daylight
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 different view of the 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.

708    MARCH 14, 2010:   Jumping Juniper: It's Spring
We are in the midst of an astronomical revolution as the warmth of the sun is returning, and Sol daily climbs higher into the sky. The first enactment which was human made occurred when we switched from Eastern Standard Time to Eastern Daylight Time. On Saturday before bed, we set our clocks forward as we leaped seamlessly from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. During that moment it appeared as if we gave ourselves an extra hour of daylight, but we really didn’t. Through this little maneuver, we simply shifted the daylight hours more to our waking hours. The last day of EST in my hometown saw sunrise at 6:17 a.m. and sunset at 6:06 p.m. The first day of EDT, the sun rose at 7:15 a.m. and set at 7:08 p.m. Most of us were asleep when the sun came up, but virtually all of us were awake at sunset. It seems as if we had grabbed an extra hour of daylight miraculously from nothingness. The second part of the astronomical revolution is natural, but it has been far more subtle. There has been an ongoing gain in the amount of daylight that we have received since the winter solstice on December 21. Day by day, the sun’s altitude has climbed higher in the sky. The difference in the amount of time the sun was above the horizon on the last day of EST to the first day of EDT was four minutes when carried to the nearest whole number. That is an astounding increase of daylight. This effect will maximize itself on Saturday, March 20, when the sun moves in its yearly circuit from below the equator to above it. The first moment of spring, when the sun shines directly on the equator, happens on Saturday, March 20, at 1:33 p.m. EDT. From that instant onward until September 22 at 11:13 p.m. EDT, the sun will be north of the equator, joyfully giving us an advantage in energy. If you have not figured it out already, let me just say that over the years, I have definitely become a summer kind of a guy.

709    MARCH 21, 2010:   Smiley Moon
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Nancy Seavey of Summerfield, Florida. She was curious about the moon she had seen on February 17, 2010 and wrote, “I saw the moon like a smiley face which I had never seen before.” I remembered about the same time, looking out the front window of my house and catching what I mused might have been seen as a laughing moon low in the west. I read Seavey’s e-mail on February 19 and could not help recognizing our similar experiences. Late winter and spring are definitely the times of smiley moons, that is, the waxing (growing) crescent moon seen in the west after sundown. The word “crescent” means horned, and when the moon’s horns are pointed away from the horizon, our nearest neighbor in space can look like it is smiling. The geometry that creates a smiley moon occurs when the plane of the Earth’s orbit, called the ecliptic, intersects the horizon at a steep angle. Right now, that slant is over 70 degrees. The moon also orbits the Earth at an inclination of five degrees. Since the moon gets its light from the sun, the moon’s sunlit portion will always point to the location of the sun below the horizon. If the moon is north of the ecliptic, its sunlit side can reach a maximum angle of 78 degrees to the horizon from where I live in southeastern PA. That’s only 12 degrees from the vertical. The moon will look like a bowl with its rounded base pointed towards the horizon, essentially in a smiling position. The Cheshire moon is happening right now after sundown. By the morning of March 23, the moon will be at first quarter, half on and half off, like a pumpkin smile. After the 23rd the moon keeps waxing into a gibbous phase with more than half of its Earth-facing surface illuminated by the sun. The evening smiley moon will be gone until April 15, when Luna returns to our view low in the west immediately after sundown.

710    MARCH 28, 2010:   Star Partying Near Ghost Mountain
Because the year had started with so much rain and clouds along the East Coast, as well as big snows, my Moravian College class (Bethlehem, PA) had not gotten the opportunity of viewing the real heavens. Then miraculously the skies cleared, and friends, Matt and Marcella Gustantino, Joe Zelinski, and I found ourselves on a grassy knoll in back of Bill Jacobs’ farmhouse west of Ghost Mountain, entertaining local neighbors and 23 eager students. The evening was well-spent zooming our telescopes around the heavenly vault, catching thin-ringed Saturn in the east, ruddy Mars overhead, and witnessing Venus under a thin slivery moon against a deepening lapis sky. Then it was on to the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, Perseus’ Double Cluster, the Beehive in Cancer, and a variety of other objects and luminaries to fill out our time. Of course, my short, stubby Schmidt-Newtonian was the big hit of the party, grabbing huge chunks of sky through its fine optics and eliciting squeals of excitement from numerous guests. Comments were NOT overheard coming from the directions of the other telescopes. “Is astronomy always this competitive?” one student queried. Simply put, I responded, “Yes, and this is friendly.” Entwined throughout the night were some funny moments; like the phantom attack of the killer swans, and bovines, distressed by our alien presence, calling from a distant field. There was also Peruvian student, Arturo Torres, who thought that warm spring evenings were actually warm and spring like. “Back to the tropics,” I teased. At the end of the class, even I had to admit that the air was getting a bit nippy. By that point my students had gobbled up all of the hot hors d'oeuvres that Bill Jacobs had so graciously prepared, and I was left with just juice and chips. Payback time will come with the next exam. A big thank you to all participants, especially Mr. Bill!

[Mr. Bill misses the ISS]
Oooooh no, Mr. Bill... In a vain attempt at photographing himself "among the stars," Mr. Bill misses the last good flyover of the International Space Station for the next 16 years. Bill Jacobs and Gary A. Becker montage...

[March Star Map]

[March Moon Phase Calendar]