Tag: Amateur Astronomy

Astronomy: When clouds are the enemy

So this evening a dusk there’s supposed to be a nice conjunction of Mars and Venus just under the crescent moon.

And of course it’s cloudy where I am. So it’ll be completely invisible to me. That’s life when you love astronomy and live in the northeast.

That would be one nice thing about living in an arid region – clear skies. There have been a very few times in my life where I’ve been able to see some awe inspiring stuff in the sky. When I was a kid living in Providence before the advent of High Pressure Sodium lighting you could clearly lay in your back yard and look up. You’d see the big and little dippers, Orion, pretty much the whole sky.

But over time those view went away. Too much light pollution.

And there was one time a few years back I was traveling on U.S. 17 between Elizabeth City and Edenton North Carolina. Now driving around in the dense northeast you always have headlights in your rear view. But I noticed on this trip the mirrors were pitch black. So I pulled over on the side of the road and got out of the car.

And then I looked up – and of course no camera to record the event! What I saw was the band of the Milky Way – almost to the point where it felt like you could reach out and touch it.

And I’ve never seen it since as clouds have been the enemy. I’m reminded of the lorry driver in one of Douglas Adam’s works who had rain everywhere he went because the clouds loved him. I think I may have the same.

Stargazing vs. Light Pollution

I know I’ve posted about this before but after our trip to North Carolina it came back with a vengeance. I’m talking about light pollution.

I’d like to meet the inventor of the high pressure sodium light and slap him around a bit. The old style street lights if fitted with newer bulbs would have put more light onto the street and less into space. While we’re on the slapping kick, I’d like to slap former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci for pushing uplighting on the buildings in Providence. I know he’s not the only one responsible, but he’s the closest target.

And while I’m on the subject, I’d like to see a few nights a year of complete darkness. It’s funny, when we flew from Dulles to Boston I could see the amorphous orange glow of the skylines of cities up the east coast. There’s Manhattan, Hartford, Providence, and then the big orange glow of Boston.

Couldn’t we have dark nights? Nights where they shut off the building lights, shut down street lights (And beef up police patrols!) where you can just look up with wonderment at a sky positively strewn with stars. Why not every Saturday night of the year we go dark. We could push it as an energy and money saving idea.

With the naked eye I can only resolve the stars of the brightest magnitude. The binoculars bring out many more, they cut through some of the light pollution and I’m sure a good reflector, say something with a primary mirror of 8″ to 10″ would resolve quite a bit more. But it isn’t as portable as a pair of 10×50 binoculars. The 10 is the magnification factor, while the 50 is the size of the objective lens in millimeters. I bought mine for about $50 several years ago but the price as with everything has now doubled. It’s cheaper than a telescope but you can get a decent little 5 or 6 inch reflector for about $300 to $400.

For now, being a city dweller means keeping the binoculars. They have other benefits too. :)

And I hope that the next set of international protocols for the environment do include light pollution abatement.