December 30, 2007

StarGuide Observing Tips for January, 2008

 

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Comet 8P/Tuttle is expected to peak in visual magnitude 6.0 in late December and early January. The comet will reach Perigee (nearest Earth) on New Year’s Day and Perihelion (nearest the Sun) on 26 January. This is expected to be the best sighting and closest pass since Horace Tuttle re-discovered the comet in 1858. The path of this comet will take it south through Andromeda, Pisces and Cetus. It will glide by M33, the Triangulum galaxy, on 30 December. Since 8P/Tuttle will be only 25 million miles from Earth on 1 January it will sweep southward about 4 degrees per day.

While we’re discussing comets, be alert to the possibility of a second brightening and spike in the visual magnitude of Comet 17P/Holmes. Holmes had such an outburst during it’s apparition of 1892-93. This comet is currently drifting through eastern Perseus and will pass within 10 arcminutes of the bright variable star Algol on the night of 22 January.

Will a recently discovered asteroid impact Mars? The asteroid, which has been designated 2007 WD 5, was discovered in early November. Astronomers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimate this asteroid to be 150 feet across and currently predict a 1-in-25 (4%) chance that it will impact Mars early on the morning of 30 January, 2008. Likely the asteroid will miss the red planet by about 15,000 miles.

The Planets in January

Mercury will make it’s first appearance of 2008 in the evening skies of late January. Watch for Mercury about 30 minutes after sunset 10 degrees above the west-southwest horizon from January 19th-26th. The tiny planet reaches maximum eastern elongation 23 January.

Venus pre-dawn show continues, but it appears a bit lower in the sky each successive morning. January 4-6th the waning crescent Moon dances through Scorpius past Antares and Venus. Each morning Venus and Jupiter will draw “closer” to each other until the two brightest planets reach their nearest conjunction, less than a degree apart, on 1 February.

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Mars continues to be visible nearly all night long being just past opposition and it’s nearest approach to Earth in mid-December. We’re moving away from the red planet now but observing will still be very good through the month of January. Look for it this month retrograde through Gemini and Taurus.

Jupiter starts January too low to be observable before dawn but will climb to meet Venus for a spectacular conjunction by month’s end. Look for it above the southeastern horizon in Scorpius before dawn.

Saturn is rising around 9pm as the new year begins. Best time to observe the ringed planet this month will be after midnight in constellation Leo.

Neptune will be difficult to see in the evening twilight this month. Catch Uranus quickly after sunset low in the southwest in Aquarius.

Earth reaches perihelion, closest to the Sun for 2008, at 23:50 UT (6:50pm EST) January 2nd

The latest sunrise of the year for the northern hemisphere occurs the morning of 5 January

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New Moon 8 January First Quarter Moon 15 January

Full Moon 22 January Last Quarter Moon 30 January

 

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Celestial Products publishes and distributes popular reference materials, calendars, charts, note cards, and gifts designed to stimulate understanding of our universe.Order by telephone at 1-800-235-3783 (from outside the U.S./Canada: 540-338-4040). Celestial Products, a Universe of Wonder Right Here on Earth!

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December 10, 2007

Outdoor Lighting: An Open Letter to our Harrison County Neighbors

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On June 7th, the draft lighting ordinance was presented to the plan commission in Harrison County, IN.

The concept is simple: “Thou shall not shine thy light on thy neighbor’s property”. The ordinance sets reasonable lighting levels and mandates the installation of shields on outdoor lighting fixtures.A $39 yard light will not solve your security issues. Such lights actually show criminals the way to your property.

As an amateur astronomer for over 35 years I have watched as the view of the dark, natural night sky has virtually disappeared in urban areas like Louisville, KY. Now only a few of the brightest stars are visible. From my home near Elizabeth the sky to the east is awash in an orange glow that is nothing more than wasted energy from thousands of lights at homes and businesses in Jefferson county and beyond. On moonless nights I can walk outside and see my shadow under this reflected glare. As I look to the south the “light dome” above Brandenburg, KY is visible, similar glare is visible over Corydon to the west and Lanesville to the northwest.
I have invested thousands of dollars in telescopes and astronomy accessories and hundreds of thousands of dollars to become a property owner here in Harrison county. With this property came the expectation that I would be free to enjoy the benefits of a semi-rural lifestyle including a natural, dark night sky.

There are 5 lights on neighbor’s properties surrounding my home which throw glare onto my property. This is not acceptable.

There are two problems with light trespass. The first is obvious: skyglow that blots out all but the brightest stars. On occasions when there is an opportunity to view a comet, nebulae, galaxy or some other deep sky wonder I’m out of luck if it’s to the east. If there’s something in that part of the sky I can pack up my gear and drive 50 miles to find a dark site or put the telescope away. The other problem, which is due to the glare from lighting coming from my neighbor’s property, is that such glare makes it impossible for my eyes to “dark adapt”. The human eye requires about 30 minutes in darkness to “dark adapt” to “night vision”. In less than one second glare from a neighbor’s light overwhelms the eye and “resets” dark adaptation.

Light trespass is an intrusion for everyone, not just astronomers. Glare from neighbor’s lights intrude into the rooms in my home. The night is split by the ugly blue white glare of no fewer than 4 dusk to dawn “security” lights when I spend and evening relaxing on my front porch. Why can I see lights which are quarter of a mile or more distant?
Glare from excessive lighting does not enhance security it creates safety hazards. Glare across roadways creates blinding “veiling luminance” that overwhelms the eye and is a driving hazard. The recent renovation and parking lot lighting installation around the tractor farm supply store in Corydon is an example of excessive lighting. There is considerable evidence that dusk to dawn lights DO NOT enhance security. To the contrary, the glare from these lights show would-be criminals where you keep your stuff and provide shadows where intruders can hide in the harsh glare. A much better solution would be a motion activated, shielded fixture.

Consider this: Which is more likely to alert the homeowner and neighbors to the presence of an intruder? A light that’s glaring all the time or a motion sensor activated light that comes on only when someone or something is outside where they don’t belong?

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The International Dark Sky Association estimates that, in the U.S. alone, consumers waste over $3 billion dollars worth of energy every year with poorly designed outdoor lighting which does little more than throw glare into the sky. Using the local power cooperative’s numbers there are more than 5,000 dusk to dawn lights in use in the Harrison county area. Each of these lights uses 125 kilowatt hours of energy per month. That’s 625,000 kilowatt hours per month or about 7.5 million kilowatt hours every year. More than half of that energy is wasted throwing glare across property lines and into the night sky.

I believe that glare from neighboring lights is an intrusion. We all have the right to enjoy the wonder that is a natural, dark night sky. Harrison county tourism promotes a scenic, rustic community. There is nothing scenic or rustic about the glare around the hotel on SR135 north of I-64 and at other locations in Corydon. Many commercial locations are lit up like a prison yard. I believe that if future generations are to enjoy the beautiful natural resource that is the night sky it is imperative that our county planners and commissioners enact the proposed outdoor lighting ordinance without further delay. If you agree please contact me via email or through postal mail at H.E.L.P, the Harrison Efficient Lighting Project at POB 5973, Elizabeth, IN 47117. Please support this effort by making your opinion known to your county commissioners and attend the Commissioner’s meeting on Thursday, June 7th, 7:30 pm at the county courthouse in Corydon.

Headera.jpgOur outdoor lighting efforts are supported by Starry Night Lights. Thanks to Anthony Arrigo for his product and information support. To quote Anthony “Starry Night Lights aims to restore the night sky to its past luster. We’re working to address the problem one bad light at a time.” Visit their light pollution blog.

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December 8, 2007

Be a Project Mars Watch Observer

Our friend Don Spain is inviting you to participate in our “Project Mars” observing project. Observe Mars anytime through February, 2008, draw maps based on your observations and earn a certificate for your efforts.

For a copy of Don’s Mars observing guide email me here.

We may have an impromptu public observation of the Geminid Meteor shower on Thursday, December 13th. If you are interested in joining me for the Geminids contact me here 

Thanks to Jim and Laura Pfeiffer at Turtle Run for offering to host our star party. We’ll try again in 2008. Visit the Turtle Run Winery website or get directions here.

 

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Exclusive! Listen to our interview with John Dobson

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