StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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[Moon Phases]


[Venus-Jupiter Conjunction]
Venus (lower) and Jupiter brighten up a Coopersburg, PA neighborhood just prior to the Labor Day weekend. September 1 digital photo by Gary A. Becker...

[Venus-Jupiter Conjunction]
Venus (upper left) and Jupiter are joined by a three day old waxing crescent moon on the evening of September 6. Digital photo by Gary A. Becker...
472    SEPTEMBER 4, 2005:   Unwanted Light Steals the Night
I spent a month this summer volunteering for the National Park Service as an astronomy interpreter in southwestern Utah at Bryce Canyon, the hoodoo capital of the world. I thought Chaco Culture in New Mexico was remote, but Bryce sets a new standard in getting away from people. There were plenty of tourists in and around the park—Bryce gets 1.5 million visitors annually—but surrounding the park, there was virtually no one. Returning to Bryce from Torrey, UT one evening, I drove for 20 minutes at near highway speeds without seeing a single light. Startled mule deer and kamikaze jackrabbits that aimed straight for my headlights were another matter. The absolute blackness of the night and the lack of humanity were a little unnerving for this urbanite. It got me thinking about light pollution and our dwindling dark sky preserves. We waste about three billion dollars per year through poor lighting, sending countless lumens of unwanted energy into the night sky and elsewhere, something that is called light trespass. This wasted revenue is greater than the annual budget of our National Parks. Even if I could flick my fingers and solve all the light wastage in an instant, the stars would still be mostly invisible from our major cities. That’s because a substantial amount of light still gets reflected back into space. However, one of the best places that we can make a stand against light wastage, and have a chance at winning, is in remote parks like Bryce. This philosophy has been promoted under the leadership of Chad Moore and Angie Richman at Bryce Canyon. Moore has spent the last several years traversing the country, quantifying the darkness of our national park skies. Next week, I’ll talk more about his work. Bryce ranks as the third darkest on Moore’s list.

[Courthouse Wash, Arches National Park]
If skies like these are to be preserved, US citizens will have to become advocates of the night. Photography of Courthouse Wash in Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah by National Park Service Night Sky Team member Dan Duriscoe and wife Cindy Duriscoe... Read above!

473    SEPTEMBER 11, 2005:   Night Sky Team
Our national park system may present our best hope of preserving a dark night sky. Many parks are located in sparsely populated areas where the containment of light pollution would be feasible. At Bryce Canyon, located in southwestern Utah, Chad Moore, along with Dan Duriscoe of Sequoia National Park, have spearheaded the National Park’s, Night Sky Team. Since 2000 Moore and Duriscoe, along with others, have traveled the country surveying dozens of dark parks. They use both high-tech, digital photos to create a computerized, all-sky, light pollution map and old-fashioned, visual observations where star counts are made within a specified area of the sky to determine the faintest luminaries visible. In truly dark environments like Bryce, the limiting factor is the sky itself. Airglow, arising from the recombination of ionized atoms and molecules that are excited by high energy particles, and radiation entering the Earth’s atmosphere, brighten the night sky even in the most remote locations. So where are the darkest US national parks? Here is a list of the top ten according to the Night Sky Team: 1-Capitol Reef, Utah; 2-Big Bend, Texas; 3-Bryce Canyon, Utah; 4-Death Valley, California; 5-Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon, Arizona; 6- Canyonlands, Utah; 7-Yellowstone, Wyoming; 8-Great Basin, Nevada; 9-Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and 10-Crater Lake, Oregon. The real shocker to everyone was Cape Hatteras, the only national park east of the Mississippi to be cited in the top ten. Without knowledge of this article, several individuals, including Allen High senior, Adam J. Santo, have related their summer astronomy experiences at Hatteras. Next week, I’ll talk about Pennsylvania’s dark sky site, located in Potter County.

[Bryce Canyon Milky Way]
The Milky Way shines brightly from Bryce Canyon in southwestern Utah, rated by the Night Sky Team as the third darkest national park in the United States. Photo by Gary A. Becker...

474    SEPTEMBER 18, 2005:   Oh, What A Night!
For years I have been tantalized by the Black Forest Star Party held at Cherry Springs State Park near Coudersport, PA. The event, sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Observers from State College, draws annually about 450 astronomy enthusiasts. Its participants have extolled the black skies of rural Potter County, and I wanted to see them for myself. But Cherry Springs is over four road hours from where I live, and it is located in the cloudiest region east of the Mississippi. Needless to say, many Black Forest events have taken place under less than favorable conditions. Enter friend Adam Jones, pilot and meteorologist, with an uncanny sense of forecasting, and get this, a dirt landing strip that ends within 100 yards of the observing area at Cherry Springs. Here are the perfect ingredients for “crashing a star party.” That’s exactly what Adam and I did on the flawless, new moon evening of September 3. Imagine a large grassy oasis surrounded by a dense, verdant forest. The observing field is packed with hundreds of pop ups and as many telescopes pointing towards the heavens. As sunlight fades, the sky is an azure blue, and hushed people are in busy preparation, adjusting this knob or that button, as if waiting for the report of some magical gun and a race to begin. That evening, I saw both dusk and dawn in what became a true race against the Earth’s rotation and the light of a new day. In between it was pure magic against the backdrop of the late summer Milky Way arching from horizon to horizon, and a field bathed in the red glow of muted and pulsating lights, marking the locations of telescopes and observers. If there is a heaven, maybe amateur astronomers in the Northeast pass on to Potter County. Photos are posted online.

[Black Forest Star Party]
Black Forest Star Party 2005:   Photography by Gary A. Becker, lower right inset with the help of Adam R. Jones (right)...

[Black Forest Milky Way]
From Cherry Springs State Park in north central Pennsylvania, the summer Milky Way stretches across the sky from horizon to horizon with only minor amounts of light pollution visible. Thanks to Lynn Krizan of Kutztown University for the use of his equatorially aligned telescope to which I piggybacked my camera for this five minute exposure. Gary A. Becker photography...

[Black Forest Observer]
Many observers watch the heavens all night at the Black Forest Star Party, taking advantage of the exceptionally dark unpolluted eastern skies. Gary A. Becker photography...

475    SEPTEMBER 25, 2005:   Perseus, the Hero
Every once in a while, a person comes along who really seems to have his collective act together; someone who is handsome, smart, an excellent athlete, and genuinely a nice guy. I’ve just described Perseus, the Hero, an autumn constellation now rising in the NE after sundown. Perseus, as a baby, and his mother, Danae, were abandoned by Perseus’ grandfather and set adrift in a sealed coffin to die. They were rescued and taken in by a Good Samaritan fisherman. Years later, as Perseus matured, the evil king, Polydectes, desired to marry his extremely beautiful mother, but Perseus proved an obstacle to the king’s plans. To get rid of the teen, Polydectes sent Perseus on a quest to kill the Gorgon monster, Medusa. Once beautiful, the Medusa now had slithering snakes as hair, and looking into her eyes, literally got one stoned. It seemed to be a no-brainer to Polydectes. Perseus would wind up as just another wide-eyed statue on the island where the monster lived. But Perseus had friends in high places, god and goddesses who had given him special weapons, allowed him to fly, and even to become invisible. Needless to say, the Medusa had met her match and lost her head over our hero. On his flight home, Perseus used the Medusa to rescue the lovely Andromeda, who was chained to a rock as tribute to the monster Cetus. Before Cetus could devour her, the fiend was also turned into stone. Naturally, it was love at first sight for Andromeda, and wedding bells were soon to follow, but only after Perseus turned Polydectes and his gang into stone and then became king. Good triumphed; evil got trampled. You can see Perseus in the Northeast as a sideways “V” by 10 p.m., below and to the right of the “W” constellation of Cassiopeia. A map is posted online.

[Perseus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia]

September Star Map

september Moon Phase Calendar