StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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[Moon Phases]


314    SEPTEMBER 1, 2002:   Starlight Not Streetlight
An astronomy buddy of mine had a neighbor who consistently turned on his deck light whenever my friend was outside observing. Talking and even pleading with this fellow produced no positive results. The lamp was still being turned on. Finally in an act of desperation, my friend covertly stole up to the bulb one evening and painted it black. I am not advocating criminal behavior as a solution to light pollution, but we are losing our night sky to the unwanted illumination that is glared into our eyes and beamed into space by millions of poorly designed street and billboard lamps. Should we pull the plug on these lights so that urban residents can behold the beauties of the Milky Way from their balcony porches? I am totally against this. We need light at night. But responsible outdoor lighting practices must be seen as the wave of the future. Drive around the Lehigh Valley and notice the billboards and buildings that are illuminated from below. As much as 90 percent of that light is missing its target and going into the space. It is the consumer who ultimately pays the electric bills, including the cost of lighting the Lehigh Valley's most distinguished structure, the PPL building at Ninth and Hamilton streets. Consider the increased difficulty in driving with streetlights glaring into your eyes. Shine a flashlight into your face at night and notice how diminished your vision becomes the nearer you get to the bulb. That's glare, another form of light pollution. As lighting fixtures deteriorate on buildings, billboards, and streets, we need to replace them with fixtures that direct all of their energy onto the ground, and no light into our sky. We'll help preserve the environment, as well as save some money to boot. I like win-win situations like that.

315    SEPTEMBER 8, 2002:   Sirius: An American K9 Hero
I remember precisely where I was, driving east on Turner, just beyond West Park when I heard about the World Trade Center. By the time I had reached Dieruff, teachers were scrambling to set up a TV in the library and some students were beginning to gather. Instruction stopped that day, but education continued as we watched the towers crumble. I felt alone and isolated in a room filled with kids. Trying to cope with what has happened has been difficult, but one victim has helped to create a living memorial which I can see in the sky. Not all of the fatalities were human. One of the deaths was a NY/NJ Port Authority Police Department bomb detection dog named Sirius. Sirius, also called the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the constellation of Canis Major, the Big Dog, and at present, it can be seen at 5:30 a.m. low in the southeast against a brightening sky. Follow the three belt stars of Orion downward to connect with Sirius. You can't miss it because Sirius is the brightest star of the night. You might ask, why memorialize a dog? A well-kept dog loves his master unconditionally and will instinctively sacrifice his own life if the situation merits. A dog does not care if his owner or handler is Black or White, Jew or Muslim. It is a type of bonding, a type of caring that we more intelligent humans have failed to grasp. Sirius died in his kennel when the North Tower fell. There just was not enough time to rescue everyone. The star Sirius is currently rising and will be visible in our sky until April of next year. The ancients considered heavenly bodies that were ascending to be good omens. They were refreshed and feted from their long journey beneath the Earth. At least for the present, Sirius, the dog, and the star, will serve as my beacon of hope for a better world to come.
[World Trade Center Lights]
Blue Lights: Twin beams of blue light commemorate the loss of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Photography by Adam R. Jones...

316    SEPTEMBER 15, 2002:   Welcome to Autumn
Change is in the air. The equinox is upon us. The sun's path across the sky has been rapidly shrinking, and with it, the length of daylight shortens. The time of the long shadows draws nearer, as well as those first frosts coating our windshields in the yellowed light of misty autumn mornings. Monday, September 23 marks the first day of fall. The precise moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator on its southward journey is at 12:56 a.m. On the 23rd, people living at the equator will witness the sun climb to the zenith, while the Claus' at the North Pole will view Sol slowly spiraling downward around the horizon. Over the next several days it will disappear from view, not to be seen until spring. Time to get to work. At the South Pole there will be rejoicing, for the same sun will be slowly spiraling above the horizon to remain in the sky until our spring. Everywhere around the world, except near the poles, there will be 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. On Saturday the 21st, the moon will be full. It will rise nearly due east just a half hour after sunset at 7:30 p.m. Its light will brighten a darkening landscape as twilight recedes in the west. Before electric headlights, farmers harvesting crops in Europe and America could count on the moon's luminance to help further their efforts late into the evening. Over the next few nights the moon will rise at 7:51 p.m. (9/22), 8:13 p.m. (9/23), and 8:36 p.m. (9/24). The slope of the moon's orbital path to the eastern horizon is small at this time of year. Each day the moon moves its set angular distance orbiting Earth, while it is carried only a small fraction of that distance below the horizon. This allows the moon to rise nearly at the same time over the course of several evenings, giving us what we call the Harvest Moon.

317    SEPTEMBER 22, 2002:   Phaeton and Cygnus
High overhead as darkness falls, you'll see three bright and widely spaced stars of the Great Summer Triangle. They are the brightest luminaries of their respective constellations, Lyra, the Harp, containing Vega, the most luminous; Aquila, the Eagle, with Altair, the second brightest of the triad; and Cygnus, the Swan, containing Deneb. Locally, the swan looks more like a cross if you are facing south and looking overhead. See the on-line map at web StarWatch. The story of Cygnus is one of devotion for his best friend, Phaeton. Told by his mother and boasted to his friends, Phaeton said he was the son of Apollo, the sun god. To prove his parentage, Phaeton journeyed to Apollo's eastern palace and was greeted as Apollo's son. However, Phaeton still desired more, and Apollo acquiesced and told his son that he would grant him any wish. Foolishly, Phaeton asked to drive his father's sun chariot across the sky. When the appointed morning was at hand, and Aurora, goddess of the dawn, opened her gates, Apollo's four steeds rushed into the sky with their new driver. Phaeton was no match for his father's skill, and the horses soon realized that they were free to roam as they wished. Down towards the Earth they swooped, setting mountains ablaze and causing the oceans to boil. Then towards the heavens they shot, blazing a scorched pathway across the sky that today we call the Milky Way. Zeus ended Phaeton's life with a lightning bolt, and he fell like a flaming meteor into the river Eridanus. Diving for the body of his best friend, Zeus turned Cygnus into a swan to help him go deeper, but alas Phaeton's body was never recovered. Cygnus, however, was honored by Zeus for his steadfast loyalty to Phaeton and made into the constellation of the Swan.

318    SEPTEMBER 29, 2002:   Planet Walk
The universe is an awfully big place. In fact, so is the solar system. I was recently reacquainted with this concept when contemplating the construction of a planet walk on Dieruff High School's campus. The idea would be to build a scale model of our solar system, along the walkways surrounding the campus. This is not an original idea. Ray Harris of Macungie has created three of these walks in eastern PA. In Allentown, the Ernest F. Andrews Memorial Planet Walk can be found in the Lehigh Parkway between the Iron Bridge and Bogart's Bridge. In a pleasant three quarter mile stroll you get to see the planets of our solar system in correct proportion to their scaled distances from the sun. I should have just contacted Ray and received the specs, but I didn't and began my pencil model with a two-meter (six foot) sun. That's about the size of the sun along with proportionally sized planets that I use in my classes. Students can circle Sol while I throw the planets onto the yellow sheet. It's always a big hit with plenty of ooohs and aaahs from the kids. However, when I proportioned the correct distances for the planet sizes in my homemade kit, even I was ooing. In such a model a 1/4-inch diameter Mercury and a 11/16-inch Venus would be positioned 273 feet and 510 feet from the sun, a 3/4-inch Earth would be 705 feet away, and 3/8-inch Mars would be 1/5 mile distant. Keep in mind that we are only considering the inner planets. The spans of the outer planets become even more staggering. An 8-1/16 inch Jupiter is over 7/10th of a mile from the sun; a 6-13/16 inch Saturn, is 1.3 miles away, and a 3-inch Uranus and Neptune are 2.5 and 4 miles respectively. Finally, 1/8-inch Pluto would be 5.3 miles away. We're talking about some serious hiking here, so it's back to the drawing board for me.

September Star Map

September Moon Phase Calendar