StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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1359    September 4, 2022:   "IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations"
I believe in diversity. When I was a teenager, I read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. There is a chapter in her book where the main character is transported to a planet where everyone looks alike-Camazotz. Everyone lived in identical houses and performed identical actions. There were no differences, a stagnant place with which I had no desire to be associated. * As an adult, I have seen people trying to stereotype others, and our history shows that idea in action. No respect for diversity… * I welcomed, then in the 60's, Star Trek, a forward-thinking drama that celebrated diversity. Each episode showed us different planets, peoples, and customs. It even had a Prime Directive. Don't influence the philosophies and technologies of other worlds. Let cultures be who they are so that they can forge their own destinies. * If there are other planets with sentient beings inhabiting them, it would be unwise to consider that they would look like us in any way. That is one of the lessons that Star Trek taught me. Sentient beings came in all different and unique forms—the Vulcans, Klingons, Borg, Andorians, Bajoran, the Jem'Hadar, Cardassian, Gorn, and the Horta, to name just a very small few. A lot of them were upright, similar to bipedal human beings, but some weren’t, like the Gorn (lizards) and the Horta (rocks) and, of course, the Borg (human machines). It is interesting how we accepted them without equivocation when humanity in reality was and still is wrestling with racial, religious, cultural, and sexual orientation issues. These aliens had two broad attributes in common—they were sentient and they were accepted by the Enterprise crew. Consider Captain Kirk and his love addiction for alien women. * In today's world we have learned that there are some aerial phenomena that we cannot identify—the UFO's (Unidentified Flying Objects) of the 60's have warped into the UAP's (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) of today. Their origins are unknown so one of the possibilities that must be considered is that they are alien in nature, visitors from another world, unknowable in their purpose, but apparently for the moment following Star Trek's Prime Directive. * The probability that they came because of the Pioneer plaques or the Voyager records may even be a possibility. After 45 years in space the two Voyager spacecrafts are still beaming data towards Earth. If alien technology has been monitoring us, they will be able to see how our world needs to embrace more diversity. They should have taken the hint from the radio and TV news broadcasts that we have been beaming into space for nearly a century. We are capable of such goodness, but like the Borg, we are also adept at evil too. * That reminds me of the old bathroom scribble, "Is there any intelligent life on Earth?" Below was the response, "Yes, but we're just visiting." * At any rate, we can say we are an evolving species, perhaps only going through a Camazotz phase. I truly hope that diversity wins out, and that eventually our humanity will pull together as one giant life force for the preservation of our planet. Gene Roddenberry, who developed Star Trek thought we were capable of it, and in the end, he tried to bring his enlightened vision of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations to the rest of humanity. Ad Astra!

1360    September 11, 2022:   Closing Time
Working on my astronomical observatory with Adam Jones over the last three months and spending the bulk of the daylight hours out-of-doors, I have had a unique perspective on this summer's weather and more. Where I live in the southeastern part of Lehigh County, we only had four days from late May through early September where our work activities were cancelled because of rainy conditions. In fact, it was so dry that the stream that runs across my backyard property stopped flowing for a record length of time this year, about one month. The hoarse chorus from a rather large frog population ceased its friendly evening callings and a big, grey water snake that was probably feasting on the local amphibian population was forced to hide under dry ground by the parched streambed. It simply did not rain during the past three months. * Our workdays were long. Adam was usually on site by 7 a.m., but I needed more sleep, so I usually joined him a few hours later. We normally worked until past sunset when the light had faded to the point where artificial illumination was necessary; then we would end the day by going out to dinner. The problem that we experienced was that virtually all local eateries closed by 9 p.m., something new since COVID. We became Red Robin junkies in late June and early July, right after the summer solstice because that restaurant shuttered at 10 p.m., affording us at least a chance for some grub after a hard day's work. Gradually as July melted into August, we became regulars at The Coop, a very local diner that closed at 9 p.m. Sometimes we were only allowed to order sandwiches, burgers, or breakfast, but that changed during the first week in August when we could partake of the main menu because we were generally arriving there earlier each week. One server who had never waited on our table came up to us one evening and said that she was so happy to see us because she knew that her shift was almost done. However, that changed too as the days grew shorter. * Now (Sept. 7) the sun is setting at 7:22 p.m., EDT, a full hour, 11 minutes earlier than when it set at its latest. By the time of the autumnal equinox, September 22, sunset will have retreated to 6:57 p.m., EDT. On October 7, thirty days from the time I wrote this article, sundown will happen at 6:21 p.m., EDT. It is at this time of the year that the amount of sunlight shrinks at is greatest pace because the daily motion of the southward bound sun is at its greatest downward angle. We will have lost three hours of sunshine between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, but that is not the end of it. By the time of the winter solstice, another three more hours will have elapsed and our 15 hours of daylight that we enjoyed at the summer solstice will have contracted to just nine hours of sunshine. If you are a winter person like my wife, enjoy, but note that the sun will return to its former glory before you know it. Can't wait for spring, but I'll take the cooler, pleasant days of autumn first. Ad Astra!

1361    September 18, 2022:   "Danger, Will Robinson! Earth Approaching Sun!"
If you are a creature of habit, waking and going to and from daily tasks around the same time of the day, then it has been impossible not to have noticed the shrinking of daylight hours, as well as the changing positions of sunrise or sunset on the horizon. In addition, the lowering of the sun's altitude in the sky since the beginning of summer has created a continuous and changing series of light and shadow displays in my backyard. * The westward stretch of highway, where the sun was to the right (north) during the spring and summer months, is now presenting me with a head-on view of Sol that is setting directly in front of my vehicle. However, don't despair; during the next few weeks the sun will rapidly move to the left (south) of the roadway as Sol transitions from above to below the Earth's equator. * The moment that the southbound sun is shining directly over the equator is hailed as the autumnal equinox, and this year it occurs on September 22 at 9:06 p.m., EDT. * Sol will favor the Southern Hemisphere, with a sun that is higher in the sky, providing more direct energy to that part of the world, leaving mid-latitudes and especially high latitude locations in the Northern Hemisphere groping in the dark. * The whole process of the changing seasons is a function of the Earth's axis which is tilted to the perpendicular of its orbital plane. It's not much, just 23.5 degrees, but it creates all of the effects that plunge us into the depths of winter, with its unexpected snow days, as well as the heat waves and hurricanes of summertime. * Between the autumnal and vernal equinoxes, the sun rises to the south of east and sets by the same amount to the south of west because it is favoring the Southern Hemisphere. By the time of the winter solstice, the location where the sun is directly overhead is as far to the south of the equator as it can travel, positioned directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. This more southerly exposure for us shortens the extent that the sun is visible in the sky from its rising to its setting times. Its lower altitude spreads Sol's energy across the landscape, making it much less effective in its ability to warm our region of the planet. All of these effects, a change in a more southern rising and setting locations of the sun, a decrease in Sol's noontime altitude, and a shortening of the daylight hours happens as the Earth's oval-shaped (elliptical) orbit takes us to our closest approach to the sun on January 4, 2023. It is not the case for all of the planets in the solar system, but here on Earth, the seasons do not have any correlation with the nearness of our planet to our daystar. Ad Astra!

1362    September 25, 2022:   Dark Skies Over Cherry Springs
I get this question dozens of times during the course of a year. "Have you ever heard of Cherry Springs State Park?" The answer is an emphatic, "Yes!" It is Pennsylvania's dark sky site located in Potter County about 10 miles to the southeast of Coudersport at 4639 Cherry Springs Rd, Coudersport, PA 16915. From the Lehigh Valley, it is a comfortable four-hour drive to one of the most accessible, and possibly the darkest astronomy observing location on the East Coast. * The first time I visited Cherry Springs to observe was at the biannual Black Forest Star Party which is just wrapping up this weekend. I flew to the site in an old rented plane with my friend and pilot, Adam Jones. Yes, many years ago there was a grass runway allowing park visitors to access Cherry Springs by air. When we landed shortly before sunset, kids came running up towards our plane as we taxied to a parking area. I felt famous for about a second; but when we deplaned, the children rapidly dispersed, more than satisfied that we were not anyone special. * For major astronomical events where registration is required, like the Black Forest Star Party, the park is divided into "red light" and "white light" zones. For the serious observers and photographers, it is red lights only after dark. This is because rubicund light is the least detrimental color to affect the human eye's full dark adaptation abilities, which depending upon age, may take as long as 30 minutes to acquire. I have never seen a group of amateurs go from nice to angrily shouting their annoyance at the flash of a white light on the observing field. If you cannot abide by that simple rule, don't go pro. The white light camps of the park are further divided into two locales where campfires and cooking are permitted and where they are not. * How dark does it get at Cherry Springs? There are more stars than I would want to count with the southern Milky Way in the early fall sky piercing the horizon in the SSW. In the morning, the zodiacal light, a forward scattered glow from the dust grains released by countless comets in orbit around the sun, is as brilliant as the rising winter Milky Way. I remember promising myself that I would get to sleep at some reasonable time, but the beauty of the night teased me until dawn's light was easily visible. Just before that time walking the subdued, dewy observing fields with just a hint of a few muffled voices in the background, I came across a gentleman who was observing in solitude with his giant Dobsonian (Newtonian) reflector. Perched high up on a ladder, he peered at some astronomical gem that was near the zenith at that time of the morning. I had the pleasure of photographing him. He consented to remaining motionless for about five minutes while the image formed on my camera sensor. Today it remains one of my fondest memories of Cherry Springs and why it beckons to so many people. Astronomy really is the beautiful science. See it below. Ad Astra!

[Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah]
You are never lonely when you have thousands of stars to keep you company. Enjoy the Night from Cherry Springs State Park. Gary A. Becker image...

[September Star Map]

[September Moon Phase Calendar]