The Stranded Stargazer

When there is nothing but gray, day and night
As layers of dark clouds canvas the sky
I recall how I would ponder and write
About what’s seen from the telescope’s eye

For with a clear sky you can catch the Moon
Or observe planets, like Venus and Mars
And with telescope, find distant Neptune
Among the constellations drawn from stars

But rude Winter cloaks all that shines above
First by snow, then sleet, then widening frost
Denying this stranded stargazer’s love
To remain indoors dreaming of nights lost

Yet Winter will not always reign as king
I shall see Orion at start of Spring

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No Moon in February!

Do not adjust your screen, there really is nothing to see here.

I admit – though not accurate it makes for a sensational headline.  “No Moon in February!”

Of course there is a Moon.  There is always a Moon, our Moon, somewhere, visible to some degree nearly every day, weather permitting.  But February 2018 has no Full Moon, as the adjoining phase bounds this time happened first on January 31st with the next on March 1st.

When Pope Gregory XIII introduced his namesake Gregorian calendar in 1582, I am sure foremost on the 16th century mind was that February at times would have no Full Moon.  A 28-day month fits very snuggly into the 29.5 day cycle of the Moon, if you allow it.

How often does this happen?  Roughly four times per century, according to Sky and Telescope.  The last Full-Moonless February was in 1999.  That was a long time ago.  So long ago that America was still launching its own manned space missions via the space shuttle fleet (though as The Science Geek explains, the dearth of American human spaceflight may be rapidly approaching its end).

A February without a Full Moon makes for a January and March with two Full Moons each.  But this post is about poor February.  Let her 31-day brothers have their hoarding bragging rights in their own times.

Nonetheless, February should not feel too bad.  Lack of Full Moon is merely an anomalous quirk of our calendar, cured easily with time and a healthy dose of 2019.

We’re in the middle of a February with no Full Moon.  Logically, that means we are close to the New Moon phase.  It’s a great time for stargazing, if you can bear the cold and find a sky free of Winter clouds.

Our Diminishing Education Standards by Generation

Anakin Skywalker: Most powerful Force user of all time.  Despite years of academy training and extensive wartime field experience, never achieved the rank of Master.

Luke Skywalker: Learned meditation and exercise routines in a swamp for a few days.

Rey: “Look at these rocks and tell me what you see.”

What Do You See?

I took this image of Chicago after dusk on December 20th last year.  What do you see?

Some may say they see a city alive, from the skyscrapers to lakefront to the bustling streets that run through Chicago’s commercial, industrial, and residential zones.

Personally, I see photons.  Lots and lots of stray protons, all of them moving up.  Beyond the few markers intended for aviation safety, the sources of these photons are illuminating spaces beyond their intended targets.

What do you see?

A View from My Early Morning Commute

My train rushes by
Streetlights below glare upward
It’s light pollution

Dreaming of Another World

When I was in high school, the foreign language teachers would say that dreaming in a language other than your native one was the sign you had grasped it.

What can be said about dreaming of life in another star system?

Last night I had a very vivid dream about traveling to and then starting to live on a planet outside of our Solar System.  I usually don’t ponder such things, but as it is still very fresh in my memory and the topic so relevant to this blog, it seems as good of a dream sequence as any to document.

This was the type of dream from which you leave and feel it as your reality, if only for a moment.  As I awakened in the pre-dawn hour to the sounds of high winds beckoning in an arctic blast, I believed for an instant of my life that I was still on a planet in the Alpha Centauri system.

What caused this type of dream, and why now?  I have not done a lot of stargazing recently.  I did have my homemade Dobsonian out on Friday evening to look at the Moon.  And I had been taking quick pictures of the Moon throughout the week, but none of these activities are what I would consider in-depth astronomy.

It began with my landing on the planet.  I noted to myself the journey from Earth and the ship taken.  The journey was long, but not years long, so the means of travel was by some advanced, as-yet undiscovered technology.  Only a handful of people were fellow passengers.  Everyone had a very tight and cramped seat for the initial liftoff, but then we had the liberty of modest quarters for the duration of the voyage in deep space.

I was not there permanently, but was visiting the planet, like on a very extended vacation.  I remember thinking how amazing it was to be on another planet, in a different star system, even though I was clearly not the first to be here.  We had landed and departed the spaceship and were now in a hanger.

I really wanted to go outside and look up at the sky, to see the galaxy from this different vantage point.  I was hoping I could see some familiar star patterns, thinking that I should be able to recognize familiar constellations if I gazed in the direction towards home, towards Earth.  This is because I would be seeing Earth’s angle to the galaxy from that side, just a few light years farther away.

Getting outside was difficult, for a reason I cannot explain.  It was dusk.  When I finally got outside and into an open clearing, I observed animals I had never seen before along with horses native to Earth.  Looking into the distance, I saw a mountain range bathed in a golden light, a reflection of this planet’s star as it was setting below its horizon.  Heavy purple clouds hung shallow over the mountains’ peaks.

There were clouds throughout the sky and still too early to see stars.  I looked in another direction and saw the markings of a budding civilization.  There was a town, along with a developed highway, and the clear signs of a manufacturing industry already present.  My last thoughts were focused on how that very alien sky would soon be tainted by the tragedy of the forthcoming light pollution onto this colony of Earth.

Thirty Theses on Light Pollution, 2017

(I) Light Pollution is pollution.

(II) Light Pollution is among the least-understood and least-recognized forms of pollution.

(III) Most people do not know what Light Pollution is.

(IV) Light Pollution distorts the Earth’s natural night sky.

(V) Light Pollution’s distortion on the Earth’s night sky, by extension, distorts the Earth’s natural environments.

(VI) Science has accumulated sparse evidence of the environmental impacts of Light Pollution.

(VII) The accumulated scientific evidence to-date is insufficient to awaken the general population to the existence of Light Pollution and its impact on Earth’s environments.

(VIII) Light Pollution is a recent phenomenon in human history.

(IX) Light Pollution is artificial.

(X) Moonlight is not Light Pollution, but part of the Earth’s natural environment that evolved over billions of years.

(XI) Humans and most non-nocturnal animals have difficulty sleeping under artificial light, preferring the dark of night.

(XII) Light Pollution directly inhibits terrestrial stargazing and other astronomical pursuits.

(XIII) Light Pollution lessens children’s curiosity about the night sky, stunting their desire to learn and imagine.

(XIV) Light Pollution severs mankind’s prime connection for wondering about the cosmos.

(XV) The intended direction of nearly all artificial night lighting is down.

(XVI) Most artificial light illuminates in all directions (down, up, sides).

(XVII) Artificial light that illuminates outside of its intended range wastes energy.

(XVIII) Artificial light that illuminates outside of its intended range may be an encroachment onto surrounding lands and properties.

(XIX) Light Pollution is caused by artificial illumination of the night sky.

(XX) Light Pollution will never be eliminated completely from civilized locations, but it can be greatly mitigated.

(XXI) Light Pollution can be reduced with no impact to quality of life and security.

(XXII) Light Pollution can be significantly reduced by shielding all outdoor lighting to focus illumination on the intended ground target.

(XXIII) Shielded lights make nighttime visibility easier by reducing harsh bulb glare.

(XXIV) Light Pollution can be significantly reduced through the use of timers and motion sensors.

(XXV) All commercial and home decorative lighting should point downward with bulbs or diodes shielded on their sides.

(XXVI) Most Light Pollution comes from street lights.

(XXVII) Newer LED lights contribute far more to Light Pollution than the older, traditional sodium streetlamps.  This is because newer LED diodes blast light across almost the entire visible light spectrum, whereas the older sodium lamps emitted light at a very narrow yellow band within the visible spectrum.

(XXVIII) Newer LED lights are OK for outdoors but should be low-intensity, shielded, and ideally triggered by motion sensors.

(XXIX) Blue light is the worst light for outdoors because the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs blue spectrum light the easiest.  Think of the daytime blue sky!

(XXX) Images from space of the Earth’s ground illuminated at night were once evidence of progress, but now should be viewed as evidence of our collective ignorance about Light Pollution and not understanding how to lessen its impacts on the Earth’s environments.

I don’t normally concluded my posts with “please share/retweet/reblog/etc.” requests, but if you feel better informed of and aware on the topic of light pollution, please forward this to your friends and neighbors.  Spreading knowledge about light pollution is the best strategy for eventually solving the problem!

What I am really waiting for over the next year…

It’s coming!  Must be patient though.  Mars dazzles in its opposition window, rivaling Venus and brighter than Jupiter.  And it will be ridiculously close to Earth in 2018, around 35 million miles away.  To have an opportunity to view a planet so near…well let’s just say it will be more spectacular than any eclipse!

Mars in 2016.

Thanks Everyone for Giving Me My Moon Back

Young waxing Moon on August 23rd, 2017.

Eclipse forgotten
No crowds, no press, no bother
It’s my Moon again