StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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

271   NOVEMBER 4, 2001:     Light Pollution Initiative
Throughout almost all of recorded human history we have been able to view the splendors of the night sky. But since the early twentieth century, the problems of light pollution have been spreading outward from our cities robbing us of one of our most precious natural resources, dark skies. Think of it this way. In a world almost gone mad, all of the stars and some of the same constellations that the pharaohs of Egypt gazed upon are the same luminaries and star patterns that Jesus, Buddha, and Mohamed observed. They are the same stars and star figures that we see today, if we can manage to find an observing location which is dark enough. Death and the heavens seem to be two of the greatest equalizers of the human experience. Death is inevitable, but the heavens might be saved if we can just keep our city lights focused on the ground. Energy savings would be in the billions. Progress in Pennsylvania is being made with House Bill 300. The outdoor lighting initiative says that the installation of any new or replacement permanent outdoor lighting unit by or for a State agency must be fully shielded if the rated output of the lighting unit is greater than 1,800 lumens. For reference, a 100-watt standard incandescent lamp gives off about 1,600 lumens of light energy. The illumination of stadiums, monuments, and flags remains virtually unaffected, as does all nonstate lighting. But it is a positive start. HB300 was reported from committee on October 23 and is currently in House Appropriations. The Senate must act upon it and then the two houses must resolve any language differences before it reaches the Governor's desk. All of these maneuvers seem unlikely before the end of the current legislative session, but there is always next year.

[North America Light Pollution]
A 21st century light pollution map of North America... How bad will it get?

272   NOVEMBER 11, 2001:     Leonids Fever
Excitement is again running high in anticipation of another strong Leonid meteor display this coming Sunday morning. Unlike last year, the moon will not pose any problems. New moon occurs early on Thursday. Last year, with a brilliant moon in the east, Leonids streaked across my partly cloudy Coopersburg sky. In just a 40-minute period, 25 shooting stars radiated from the Sickle of Leo-and they were bright! The city lights of the Lehigh Valley would have only hidden a few of these shooting stars during peak activity which occurred near 3 a.m. The East Coast is again a favored location for the morning of the 18th, with projected rates as high as 1,000-4,000 Leonids/hour between 5-5:30 a.m. Australia is another hot spot for the 18th with rates going as high as 15,000 meteors/hour. What does this all mean? After years of Leonid fever we might just luck out and see the really big one. If the prediction runs an hour or two early, we are in fine shape. Leo will be well placed in the east. If the prediction runs late by several hours, dawn will interfere. Last year's forecast was late by about 45 minutes. Meteor rates were also below expectations, but it was still an adrenalin popper. My suggestion would be to get some rest earlier in the evening and be outside by 3 a.m. at the latest. Layer your clothing, making sure that the head, hands, and feet are especially well protected. Get your body under blankets or in a sleeping bag. If activity is high, you will have no trouble seeing that the meteors are radiating from Leo's head, and your racing heart will send plenty of warm blood to all parts of your body. If it's a bust, the sleep fairies will be sprinkling their dust. Download a meteor map from this week's web edition of StarWatch.

[Venus at dusk]
NOVEMBER LEONIDS RULE: "X" marks the spot from which thousands of Leonid meteors could be radiating just before dawn on November 18th. Leo will be high in the Southeast.

[Venus at dusk]
LEONID RADIANT: The five Leonid meteors which are visible in this November 18, 1999 photograph, clearly show the head of the Lion and the location from where the meteors will be coming. The first four meteors were imaged within a 10 second period. Photography by Gary A. Becker...

273a NOVEMBER 18, 21-23, 2001:     You can see Saturn's Rings
It all started on a sidewalk in New Orleans about a decade ago. A telescope, consisting of a squat box-shaped base with a long tube projecting from it, sat in front of Café DuMonde on Decatur St. by the Mississippi. It was pointed at one of the few star-like objects that could be seen from this light-splashed location. The scope's owner said it was Saturn. An 8-foot ladder stretched like a rickety staircase to an eyepiece high above the ground. Matt and Marcella Gustantino of Orefield each pulled out a buck and made a climb that would forever change their perspective of the universe. In the eyepiece, almost like a model suspended from an invisible string, was the ringed beauty. Marcella remembers that Matt was so "blown away" by the rings, that he tipped the astronomer-turned entrepreneur for his all too brief view into the cosmos. Shortly after they returned home, the couple bought their first telescope and joined the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society on East Rock Road in Allentown. Now on their second scope and shopping around for their third, the Gustantinos continue the tradition of showing off Saturn to their friends and anyone who they can lure to the eyepiece; however, their views of Saturn are given away for free. You might have noticed a bright star in the east around 9 p.m., just to the left of a slightly fainter star. Brighter Saturn is near Aldebaran of Taurus, the Bull. If you point even a modest telescope towards Saturn, an unexpected surprise awaits. Even at the lowest powers, the rings of this majestic planet await your detection. Most people believe that they can only be seen in books, but as Matt and Marcella will quickly point out, even first time viewers can easily make the discovery for themselves.

[Saturn, Fall 2001]


273b NOVEMBER 19-20, 2001:     The Lion Roared
The Lion roared before clouds nearly bit off his head. The Leonid meteor shower was a blast, then almost a bust. Radiantly blue skies blended into a crisp star-filled evening. My companions, Mark Balanda, John Weinhold, Rosa Salter, Fran Kittek, and Dieruff academy student Silvia Toth, headed to Pulpit Rock to be soaked in a Leonid meteor storm. We arrived close to midnight to find the 1535-foot summit packed with cars and tents. It was like a celestial Woodstock. Assembling our gear amid the roars of exclamations resounding from bright meteors that blazed every minute or so, we soon were able to retreat into our warm "bags" and begin watching the show. And the meteors came by the dozens, some strobing the ground with their bluish white light and leaving luminous ghostly trains which persisted for almost half a minute. It was gratifying to see scientific theory being verified right before our very eyes. But amidst the revelry came the clouds. Within 30 seconds the stars and meteors disappeared. We scrambled off the mountain in a caravan of vehicles, passing other caravans of wannabes, all looking for a patch of clear sky. We found our spot by 4 a.m. in a harvested wheat field five miles south of the "Rock." Thirteen meteors in a 7-minute period; 35 shooting stars during the next 10 minutes; 7 more in the next 5 minutes as more clouds overtook us. We scrambled once more, but to no avail. When I returned home under clear skies at 6:10 a.m., neighbors were still looking skyward. I said to myself that there was no way that Leonids could still be flying. The sky was a lapis blue, and only Jupiter was visible in the west. I went into my backyard and gazed skyward counting three more Leonids in the next five minutes. The Lion had roared, indeed!

More reports and photos of Leonid meteor storm activity can be found by clicking here.


274   NOVEMBER 25, 2001:     Blue Moon Hides Saturn
Many Leonid reports from November 18 have been e-mailed to me. They are being posted with the StarWatch article of November 19-20 at the ASD Planetarium's website noted below. Kristy Radcliffe of Quakertown brought to my attention her observation of very colorful meteors. All of her pictures of Leonids depict watermelon coloration across the shooting stars. Her best example is posted. Abby Huff of Allentown, a senior at William Allen High School, also independently noted many colorful blue-green events. Since the air was nearly 100 percent saturated with moisture, and perhaps below freezing, there may have been some optical phenomenon occurring. Are their any other watermelon meteor images out there? You can e-mail me at The second full moon of November occurs at 3:51 p.m. this Friday which makes November a Blue Moon month. The last Blue Moon occurred on March 31, 1999. The Blue Moon on Friday is special for several reasons. People who lived west of the Eastern Standard Time zone had their full moon occurring late on October 31, making last month the Blue Moon special. But for us, the moon was last full on November 1 at 12:42 a.m. The Blue Moon of Friday also hides Saturn at 7:43 p.m. This event should be easily visible with binoculars, but a telescope will make the observations more enjoyable. As the bright moon approaches Saturn, it will become more and more difficult to see the planet. Find Saturn and the moon by 7:00 p.m. and follow the moon as it overtakes the ringed world 43 minutes later. It should take the moon about 80 seconds to cover Saturn. An on-line map is provided. Saturn begins reemerging from behind Saturn at 8:42 p.m.

[Saturn, Fall 2001]


November Star Map

November Moon Phase Calendar