StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MAY  2010


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

[Moon Phases]
Solar X-rays:  
Geomagnetic Field:  
Status Current Moon Phase
715    MAY 2, 2010:   It's a Whole New Day for Our Moon
There is water on the moon. Current theory suggests that the moon was formed 4.5 billion years ago as our solar system was coalescing. In the process, Earth got whacked by a Mars-sized object spewing debris into space. The impact would have created enough energy to melt the proto-moon, vaporizing any water, and creating a satellite that was essentially bone dry. The whole process may have taken less than a day. What astronomers failed to consider, especially for the moon, was that it continued to be targeted by leftover debris. Many of these bodies striking the Earth, the moon, and the other planets would have been icy, helping to supply the water for our developing oceans. Comets smashed into the lunar poles where subsequent events blanketed crater floors with water-rich ejecta. For billions of years some of this water has remained in a deep freeze because these crater floors have never seen sunlight. The current estimate is 660 million tons of water locked beneath the north lunar pole with more water to be found at the moon’s south pole! The moon may also produce its own water. During the long lunar nights lasting almost 15 Earth days, errant solar wind particles, composed mostly of protons, slam onto the lunar surface dislodging oxygen atoms to form water. If future technological advances permit us to harvest this renewable resource, the most pressing problem regarding our permanent presence on the moon will have been solved. We will never have to transport water to the moon at an estimated 20,000 dollars per quart. Instead, it will be there already, waiting to be purified for human consumption and dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen—air to breathe, and fuel for rockets and hydrogen powered vehicles to explore the lunar surface. The moon has suddenly become a brave new world, ready to help pave the way for our exploration of Mars and beyond.

716    MAY 9, 2010:   Rocket Pioneer, Robert H. Goddard
Robert Goddard (1882-1945), inventor of the liquid fueled rocket and the father of the modern rocketry, helped to shape contemporary space exploration. His ideas helped pave the way for modern aerospace engineering, allowing payloads to be lifted into space and astronomers to view the very edge of the universe. It is said that no rocket can be designed, constructed, or launched without utilizing one of Goddard’s 214 patents. While other pioneers, such as Wernher von Braun and George Cayley, have been credited with the design of multi-stage rockets and aerodynamic principles respectively, neither has had as much influence over theory and application of outer space exploration than Goddard. Influenced at age 16 by H. G. Well’s, “The War of the Worlds,” his commitment to spaceflight came a year later while climbing a cherry tree to trim its branches. "It was one of the quiet, colorful afternoons of sheer beauty which we have in October in New England, and as I looked toward the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet.” While Goddard’s initial work in graduate school at Princeton was in radio physics, his passion was in rocketry. By 1926 he had built and designed the first liquid fueled rocket. Launched eighty four years ago from his aunt Effie's farm in Auburn, Massachusetts, the rocket dubbed, "Nell," rose to an altitude of 41 feet in a flight that lasted about 2-1/2 seconds. Goddard’s best effort only achieved a height of 8,500 feet. Nevertheless, Goddard continued his work with the support of the Smithsonian Institution. Today, renowned as a gifted experimenter, his principles in rocketry help to lift the human and robotic payloads that explore the universe in ways never dreamed possible except by Goddard.

Chris Leiby, a History Major at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA wrote this article as an extra credit assignment. I think he did well.


717    MAY 16, 2010:   Moon Moves Among Planets This Week
I like watching the planets, the moon, and the constellations when they are near to the horizon. That gives me an opportunity to photograph them with landscape silhouettes or with some detail, depending upon the phase and position of the moon. These images also emphasize the twilight sky as the last vestiges of day are fading, and add extra drama and color to the photos before the effects of light pollution begin to take their toll. The late winter group of star patterns with many bright luminaries, such as Castor and Pollux of the Gemini Twins, Capella of Auriga the Charioteer, and Procyon of Canis Minor are all getting closer to the horizon. In addition to these bright stars, Venus and Mars are in the playing field, while Luna spends the first half of the week there also. Sunday, May 16, finds a thin waxing crescent moon above and to the left of Venus, while Venus is less than a binocular field of view to the left of the first magnitude star, Elnath of Auriga. A 135mm lens would capture the trio nicely while a 20mm or 24mm format would reveal the entire constellations of Auriga and Gemini. By the evening of May 18, the crescent moon has climbed to an elevation which puts it to the left but in line with the bright stars of the Gemini Twins’, Castor (right) and Pollux. A wide angle lens should frame the scene, but in order to capture the stars, the moon will be grossly overexposed. Imaging at the right time (45 minutes to one hour after sunset), with enough twilight in the sky could still produce a pleasing photo. By May 19 and 20 a fat waxing crescent and then a first quarter moon is below and then to the left of Mars. On May 22, a 73 percent lit moon stands directly below Saturn on the western border of Virgo the Virgin. Two nights later, a nearly full moon is below Virgo’s principle star, Spica. Binoculars will increase your viewing delight. Enjoy!

[Venus and the Winter Group]
Venus (right) and the Winter Group of Constellations setting on the evening of April 30, 2010. Image by Gary A. Becker in Coopersburg, PA...

[Slivery Crescent]
A five percent lit crescent moon moves among the clouds in late twilight on the evening of May 15. This 13 second exposure was taken at an EFL of 640mm, F/5.6 using a Canon 40D camera attached to a German equatorial mount. Image by Gary A. Becker from Coopersburg, PA...

718    MAY 23, 2010:   Colder Winters Ahead?
I am a proponent of global warming, and I believe that the one degree F. increase in the Earth’s temperature during the past century has been largely a problem of humanity’s love affair with fossil fuels. The analogy of our attitude toward global warming is similar to someone who smokes cigarettes. Cigarettes simply don’t kill the smoker fast enough to be of any immediate concern. So why worry? But I am an optimist, and I believe that we will combat this crisis before Earth is diagnosed with terminal “lung cancer.” The problem, however, is an extremely complex one because the Earth has gone through many natural cycles of warming and cooling without human input. In fact, about half of the last 600,000 years have been spent in long eras of glaciation with the last ice having retreated just 12,000 years ago. Glaciation may result from cyclic changes in the Earth’s orbital eccentricity (ovalness), slight variations in its axial tilt, and the direction that the long axis (major axis) of its orbit points in space. Another factor which intrigues me is the sunspot count. It would seem natural to surmise that when the sun is speckled, less energy should be emitted. Just the opposite is true, for the sun overcompensates when larger numbers of sunspots are visible and is less luminous when there are fewer spots. Between 1645 and 1715, astronomers were observing the sun regularly, but noting few spots—an interval now known as the Maunder Minimum. During this period global temperatures went down. Between 1790 and 1830 another lull in sunspot activity occurred, known as the Dalton Minimum, dropping temperatures 3.6 degrees F. in a 20-year period at one German weather station. Remember how cold and snowy it was in Dickens’s Christmas Carol (1843)? Our current solar minimum began in 2004 and continues. Despite global warming, the next few winters could be interesting.

719    MAY 30, 2010:   Mars, Regulus Tight This Week
In the evening sky there are three planets which are easily visible even from urban locales. In the west, bathing in the departing solar glare is knockout Venus still waiting to brighten by 75 percent by late September. Currently, it is under the stars Pollux (left) and Castor, the principal luminaries of the Gemini Twins. They should become easily visible about 45 minutes after sundown. Over the next week, Venus will appear to climb to an even keel (June 11) with the Gemini brothers. Above and to the right of Castor and Pollux lies the lion, Leo, marked by its bluish-white alpha star, Regulus. Marching towards Regulus during the week will be a rose-tinted star, slightly paler than Regulus. Mars has grown much fainter over the past several months as its distance from the Earth has increased, but it will still be an imposing sight as it catches up to the “heart” of the Lion during week’s end. From Friday, June 5 through Tuesday, June 8, Mars is about one degree from Regulus, a beautiful sight through binoculars, and low power, wide field telescopes. Mars and Regulus are closest during the evening hours of June 6 when they will draw to only 0.84 degree from each other. Continuing eastward, above and to the left of Mars and Regulus, and just a little brighter than the Red Planet, is ringed Saturn. If you watch the daily motion of Venus, Mars, and Saturn among the background stars, you will notice that Venus is moving fastest, while Saturn is just slow-poking along. The result of their varied speeds will eventually bring these planets ever closer and closer together, so that by early August, the triad will form a loose triangle in the WSW. Even Mercury will get into the act if your western horizon is low enough, but it will be quite some distance away from the Mars-Venus-Saturn triangle. Ad Astra!

[Last Dieruff Class, Spring 2010]
My last Dieruff astronomy class was small but mighty. Left to right, Karinette M. Sanchez, Xiomarys Guevara “CO,” Gary A. Becker, Amelia R. Tognoli, Jacob R. Johnson, Christian W. Camacho, and Steven W. Fleischmann.

[First Moravian College Class, Spring 2010]
Spring 2010 Allen High School Class... The last Allen astronomy class before retirement… On the floor from left to right are Lea Silfies, Naomi Melendez, and Jose A. Rivera. Standing (l-r) are Anthony Todora, Daniel M. Mauricio, Michelle E. Simbana, Luis Miguel Serna (my Columbian connection), Jordan Golden, Adrian Minaya, Gary A. Becker, Katherine Salcedo, Freislyn Santana, Orlando Suazo, and Tyler F. Fatzinger.

[Last Allen Class, Spring 2010]
Students in my first Moravian College Class, Bethlehem, PA included (left to right) Joshua R. Brown, Kevin Bagar, Christopher Leiby, Megan A. Hughes, Douglas Anglin (Lehigh Uni.), Reynard M. Benschop, Arturo Torres, Jessie L. Ervin, Eddie P. Flaherty, Rebecca Grube, Gaby Haddad, Christina Bonavita, Adam Dart, Kim White, Tom Turcich, Kayla Carson, Leila Chiles, Jessica Cortes, Albert Lazaro, Jonathan Boksan, Dan Belowich, Patrick Cunningham, and Jordan Adams.

[May Star Map]

[May Moon Phase Calendar]