“Upstate NY Stargazing In October” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

The fourth article in the series – “Upstate NY stargazing in October: Prominent constellations of summer and winter visible on Autumn nights” – is available for your reading and critical review at newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com. The editors are still having a bit of fun with the word arrangement in the headline (I suspect the newest version was selected to get rid of the double “in” – but can’t speak to the seasonal capitalization preferences – I trust in my editors), but everything else is going fairly smoothly.


Mars to find other. Click for a larger view.

I lament the lack of any mention of the Orionid Meteor Shower, which won’t be impressive anyway thanks to the Moon, but should still have been included for monthly completeness. What would have been included in the article is provided below:

Meteor Showers: Orionids, Oct. 2 – Nov. 7, Peaking Oct. 20

Meteor showers are the result of the Earth passing through the debris field of a comet or asteroid. As these objects approach the warming sun in their long orbits, they leave tiny bits behind – imagine pebbles popping out the back of a large gravel truck on an increasingly bumpy road. In the case of meteor showers, the brilliant streaks you see are due to particles no larger than grains of sand. The Earth plows through the swarm of these tiny particles at up-to 12 miles-per-second. High in the upper atmosphere, these particles burn up due to friction and ionize the air around them, producing the long light trails we see. We can predict the peak observing nights for a meteor shower because we know when and where in Earth’s orbit we’ll pass through the same part of the Solar System – this yearly periodicity in meteor activity is what let us identity and name meteor showers well before we ever had evidence of what caused them.

The name of each meteor shower is based on the constellation from which the shooting stars appear to radiate – a position in the sky we call the radiant. In the case of the Orionids, the meteor shower radiant appears to be to the north/above of the belt and left shoulder of Orion, which rises from the east after 11 p.m. this month. The meteor shower itself is provided to us by Halley’s Comet, and is the best of the meteor showers associated with Halley’s debris field.

How to observe: Sadly, the Moon will be prominent in the late-night/early-morning sky during the days around the Orionid peak, making for a far less impressive display. The Orionids are not known for their impressive counts either, with 10 to 20 meteors per hour expected.

Orion marks the position of the meteor shower radiant, meaning the meteors themselves will seem to shoot roughly from the east to the west. To optimize your experience, lie flat on the ground with your feet pointed east and your head elevated – meteors will then appear to fly right over and around you. Counts and brightness tend to increase the later you stay out, with peak observing times usually between midnight and 4 a.m. The swarm of tiny particles is distributed broadly in orbit, meaning some people may shooting stars associated with the Orionids anytime this month.

Also, kudos to friend and fellow space trucker Prof. John McMahon for one orientational catch – the following:

Starting around mid-October, Jupiter will peak above the Western horizon just after 6:30 a.m.

should read:

Starting around mid-October, Jupiter will peak above the Eastern horizon just after 6:30 a.m.

The ability to iterate with the newspaper after providing the full content is perfectly encapsulated in a Charlie Rouse comment about Thelonious Monk in “Straight, No Chaser” – which I totally understand.

2016oct5_charlierouse“You know that you got to play correctly the first or second take or that’s it. He would take it anyhow. You mess up, well that’s it. You know, that’s your problem. You have to hear that all the rest of your life.”

For interested parties, this article also marks the second (and final) official mention (to the best of my knowledge) of our upcoming MOST/TACNY/CNYO hosting of International Observe The Moon Night on Saturday, October 8th. At present, the weather is looking less-than promising for even lunar observing, but plans are underway to handle the crowd either way.

If it rains Saturday night, then I recommend the following:

Some Light Science Reading. The Constellations: Pegasus

As first appeared in the September 2010 edition of the Syracuse Astronomical Society newsletter The Astronomical Chronicle (PDF).

Constellation Map generated with Starry Night Pro 6.

The Constellation this month is one light on interesting binocular and telescope objects but heavy in mythology and Naked Eye observing. To the Babylonians, the stars in this region also (or first) took on the shape of a horse known as MUL.ANSHE.KUR.RA. To the Greeks, sometimes a horse is not (just) a horse (of course, of course). The Greek mythology surrounding the winged horse Pegasus is, to say the least, involved and undecided. There are several pages discussing the mythology of Pegasus, which I refer you to in the interest of local brevity.

The torso of Pegasus is composed of a “Great Square” of stars that is very easy to see and is very often pointed out to visitors at this time of year at Darling Hill. This asterism (simply any grouping of stars that are not officially constellations) lies to the right (or south) of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), one of the great views in the Autumn skies. As the scope is pointed in this direction anyway for a good block of time during Public Viewing sessions, the walk through some of the nearby Constellations (Cassiopeia, Perseus, Andromeda, Pegasus, Cepheus) reads like a Cliff Notes version of both Clash Of The Titans movies (unless John McMahon is running the presentation, in which case you’re guaranteed a much better show). In the modern definition of the Constellations, the south-most (or upper left corner) star belongs instead to the Constellation Andromeda (but anyone staring at this part of the sky would be hard pressed to be struck more by the “Great Triangle” of Pegasus than the “Great Square” of Pegasus).

There are only two significant (and visually accessible) objects within Pegasus (the Constellation, that is) for the binocular and telescope viewer at Darling Hill. The first of these is the appropriately named Pegasus Cluster (M15), an ancient globular cluster clocked at 13.2 billion years of age. This cluster appears as a smaller version of M13 in Hercules, as captured by our own Stu Forster in the September 2008 Member Gallery and shown below. The second object is a far more difficult find, the very unique spiral galaxy NGC 7742 (below). The presence of a prominent ring in this galaxy (or, more specifically, the absence of pronounced spiraling from the center of the galaxy out to the edges) is a point of unexplained inquiry in modern astrophysics.

M15, photo taken by SAS member Stu Forster.
NGC 7742, image from the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA/ESA).

The most curious content on the wikipedia page for Pegasus involves the nontrivial amount of discussion about the reinterpretation of its connectivity by one H. A. Rey in, specifically, his book The Stars — A New Way To See Them. Rey’s goal in this book is to redefine connectivity of some of the Constellations to make them a bit easier to see as the mythical beasts they are known for. For Pegasus (see below), Rey has eliminated any mention of Sirrah (or Alpheratz, as it’s known within Andromeda), using the Great Square as a Great Triangle that marks the above-the-shoulder wings over the trapezoid torso (with the rest of the limbs along the southern edge of the Constellation). Upon inspection, his reinterpretation looked more to me like one of the drawings of The Man In The Yellow Hat who, along with Curious George, is perhaps the more famous of the illustrated characters created by H. A. Rey.

A new view of an old constellation, or The Batman In The Yellow Hat.

I’ll admit I’m mildly ambivalent about the redefinition of Constellation connectivity. On the one hand, the Constellations are one of the oldest memes in human history among all societies (extant or extinct) and, to that end, connectivity has meaning as a way of marking out specific arrangements that have largely stood the test of time. The consistency of connectivity also provides a way to reduce the memorization fatigue that comes from having to see groups of stars in slightly different ways (clearly, one arrangement is easier to know and explain than several). This is of further significance when one uses Constellations as a specific guide to locating Messier (or other) objects. If I tell you that “M15 is on an almost straight line about 1/2 the distance of the two stars that make up the snout,” you really have to trust that we’re seeing the same horse!

On the other hand, there are many amateur astronomers who use Constellations largely as tools for finding smaller objects (with or without a knowledge of their history) and, as we are a species that excels at pattern recognition (how many flying faces and hippopotami can you see on a partly cloudy afternoon?), anything that makes life easier for you the observer (especially on cold nights when observing time is at a premium) should be added to your observing arsenal. H. A. Rey’s interpretation of Pegasus connectivity might cloud just how pronounced the Great Square is (so you have to then present this Constellation with an addendum!), but it certainly does look more like a complete flying horse than the common artistic rendering of only the front half (clearly the side you’d want to have over you anyway given both choices).

Any way you look at it, it’s still safe to assume that the winged horse must have been the most efficient way to travel in the ancient world. It certainly speeds up a good plot.

Clear skies, Damian

A7281/S2714: Healthy, Safe And Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Act

The Earth at night. From nasa.gov.

Friend, fellow Syracuse Astronomical Society (SAS) member, vocal proponent of light pollution control and diminution, and favorite astronomy lecturer Prof. John McMahon forwarded the following email (from a post on the selene-ny.org website) on 24 June 2007:


Unfortunately for the citizens of the State of New York, the “Healthy, Safe and Energy Efficient Lighting Act,” designed to curb the excessive and misdirected outdoor lighting in public applications (street lights, especially) that has increasingly degraded our night skies, has failed for this legislative session.

The session ended on Thursday, 6/21/07.

Although the NY State Assembly passed the measure (A7438) by a wide margin, the leadership of the New York State Senate again did not allow the bill (S4364) to reach the Senate floor for a vote, effectively killing the bill until next year

Opposition from a variety of groups, including the NY Farm Bureau (which also successfully opposed legislation to limit open burning and burn barrels in the State) and the NY Council of Mayors (NYCOM), seemed to have played a major role.

Thanks to those who wrote in support of outdoor lighting regulation.

Be aware, however, that until we can gain a critical mass of consistent and vocal support for such bills in order to overcome the organized and well-funded opposition to a statewide initiative to reduce light pollution, we will see the continued degradation of the night skies all around us.

For updated information on the legislative efforts to reduce light pollution and to educate the citizenry about the problem, see the SELENE-NY website:


The New York State Assembly has already passed (by wide margin) the “Healthy, Safe and Energy Efficient Lighting Act” as A7438/S4364 (which I posted about previously with a bit more background).  That bill did not make it to the Senate floor for a vote before the end of the 2007 legislative session, meaning no action on it could be taken until the bill was reintroduced in (at the earliest) the next legislative session.  For 2009, we have “A7281/S2714: Healthy, Safe And Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Act,” the content of which is reproduced from the assembly.state.ny.us website below:


TITLE  OF BILL:   An act to amend the environmental conservation law and the public service law, in relation to enacting the  healthy,  safe  and energy efficient outdoor lighting act

PURPOSE  OR  GENERAL IDEA OF BILL: This bill provides for the management of outdoor night lighting to protect the nighttime environment,  enhance safety and security, and conserve energy.

SUMMARY  OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS:  Section 1 adds a new Article 20 to the environmental conservation law, the Healthy, Safe and  Energy  Efficient Outdoor  Lighting  Act. Article 20 includes sections 20-0101 setting out legislative findings, section 20-0103 stating  a  short  title,  section 20-0105  defining  terms, section 20-0107 on permanent outdoor lighting, section 20-0109 on dark-sky  preserves,  section  20-111  requiring  the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in consultation with the New  York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to develop and distribute a model comprehensive outdoor lighting ordinance, section 20-0113 requiring DEC, in  consultation  with  NYSERDA  to  develop  and distribute  a pamphlet promoting the bill’s goals of energy conservation and more effective night lighting and describing how the  provisions  of this bill will achieve them and section 20-0115 on applicability.

Section  2  directs  the Public Service Commission to require that every electric corporation or municipality providing electric service  include the educational pamphlets in its bills to customers.

Section 3 sets out the effective date.

JUSTIFICATION:  This bill is intended to limit excessive outdoor illumination. Excessive illumination wastes energy, intrudes on the privacy of others, creates glare which reduces the effect of lighting, deteriorates the natural nighttime environment, and reduces the ability for astronomical observation.

Outdoor lighting is used to illuminate roadways,  parking  lots,  yards, sidewalks,  public meeting areas, signs, work sites and buildings.  When well designed, it improves visibility, adds an  element  of  safety  and creates  a  sense  of security, while at the same time minimizing energy use and operating costs. If, however, it is not well designed it can  be costly,  inefficient,  counterproductive,  and  harmful to the nighttime environment.

Much of the outdoor lighting in use today wastes energy  because  it  is poorly  designed.  This waste results in both higher costs for providing such lighting and increased pollution from the power plants that produce the wasted electricity. It is conservatively estimated that $3  to  $4.5 billion a year is wasted in the United States in the unintended lighting of  the sky rather than the streets, walkways, and outdoor public spaces which the light was intended to illuminate.

In addition to wasting energy, poorly  designed  lighting  often  causes blinding  glare. Glare occurs when you see light directly from a fixture or bulb. The glare from poorly designed or positioned  lighting  hampers the  vision  of  drivers and pedestrians, reducing its effectiveness and creating  a  hazard rather than increasing safety. It shines onto neighboring properties and into nearby residences, reducing privacy,  hindering  sleep,  and  diminishing  the beauty of the natural surroundings in areas far removed from the source of such lighting. A large  portion  of such  lighting shines directly upward, creating the sky glow above population centers, adversely affecting the view of the night sky. In  addition  to  lowering  the cost of outdoor lighting, limiting sky glow will allow future generations to enjoy the beauty of the stars, and to  study and learn from or simply marvel at the wonders of the night sky.

This legislation addresses these problems in the following ways:

*  It  restricts  the  installation of new lighting by state agencies or public corporations operating in the state to fully-shielded luminaries. A fully shielded luminaire is constructed and installed in such a manner that all light emitted by it  is  projected  below  a  horizontal  plane through the lowest light emitting part of a light fixture.

*  It  exempts  replacement  of luminaires that are part of a continuous roadway lighting design from the requirement that  only  fully shielded luminaires be installed by state agencies and public corporations.

*  It  allows  the chief executive officer of any state agency or public corporation to exempt the state agency or public  corporation  from  the requirement that it install only fully shielded luminaires, based upon a written  determination  by the chief executive officer that a compelling safety interest requires that other types of lighting be installed.

* It exempts tunnel, airport, underbridge, traffic control, navigational and natural and cultural  monument  lighting  from  the  requirement to install fully shielded luminaires.

*  It  exempts historic-style decorative lighting if the installation of fully shielded luminaires detracts from the aesthetic character  of  the existing lighting.

* It allows historic-style decorative lighting to emit up to two percent of its lumens above the horizontal plane.

* It requires the commissioner, in consultation with NYSERDA, to develop luminaire  efficiency and lamp luminous efficacy standards by the effective date of the legislation and  requires  that  these  standards  take effect 180 days after the effective date of this legislation.

* It requires that the department in consultation with NYSERDA report to the  legislature on technological advances that affect the provisions of this article and  recommend  amendments  to  this  article  which  would increase its effectiveness in achieving the bill’s stated purposes.

*  It  empowers  the DEC commissioner to identify and nominate areas for “dark sky preserves” of the state.

*  It  exempts  state  agencies, public corporations and electric corporations providing roadway lighting under contract  to  a  public  corporation from light trespass restrictions.

* It exempts lighting done for security purposes pursuant to regulations of  the  Public Service Commission, ATM lighting done to comply with the minimum standards of section 75-c of the banking law and historic  theater lighting.

* It exempts lighting that is furthering an activity found to be a sound agricultural practice under the Right to Farm Law.

*  It requires the commissioner of DEC in consultation with NYSERDA, the Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Public Service Commission, to promulgate rules and regulations on light trespass.

* It requires the commissioner to prepare and distribute a model outdoor lighting ordinance to cities, towns, and villages throughout the state.

* It requires the commissioner, in consultation with NYSERDA, to develop and widely disseminate a pamphlet describing the purposes and provisions of this act.

PRIOR LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: 2008: A.7438A Passed  Assembly  2007:  A.7438 Passed  Assembly  2005-06:  A.7404 Passed Assembly 2004: A.6950-D Passed Assembly 2003:  A.6950C  Passed  Assembly  2002:  A.9757-B  Rules  2001: A.5352-B  Passed  Assembly  and  Senate  Vetoed  by  the  Governor 2000: A.6357-A Passed Assembly 1999:  A.6357-A En Con


EFFECTIVE DATE: This act shall take effect on the first of January  next succeeding the date upon which it shall have become law.

The SAS has, through John McMahon’s efforts, again made our stance as crystal clear as a midnight Arizona New Moon Sky.  Our work continues as we try to get A7281/S2714 to the Senate floor for a vote this year.  Showing that it is not just the night owls in favor of this legislation, The Environmental Advocates of New York and The Citizens Campaign for the Environment both have a bit of information about their efforts to support A7281/S2714 online.  The official statement from the SAS is as follows:

Re: A7281/S2714

Dear Assemblywoman Rosenthal and Senator Thompson:

The members of the Syracuse Astronomical Society (SAS) strongly endorse A7281/S2714, the Healthy, Safe and Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Act, which would regulate outdoor lighting in the State for the general benefit of its citizens.

Our starry night skies are one of our most precious natural resources, inspiring young and old alike to contemplate the mysteries of the universe.  For over a half a century the SAS has reached out to the public here in Central New York to educate neighbors and visitors alike about the marvels of the heavens.  Unfortunately, in recent years our view of the cosmos has become increasingly degraded by misdirected and excessive outdoor illumination.

For the members of our society who observe from their own backyards this problem has become especially troublesome because of general sky brightness and from excessive light from nearer sources that intrudes onto their private property.  Likewise, for the SAS’s Darling Hill Observatory (located in a semi-rural location on Vesper Hill in the Town of Tully) the sky glow from Syracuse to the north and, increasingly, from the Cortland area to our south has progressively affected our view of larger and larger portions of the sky.

Despite the recent forward-looking actions of the Town of Tully in changing over its roadway lighting to full cutoff optics that reduce offensive and distracting glare, save energy, and reduce lighting costs by over 40%, and despite the enactment in 2007 of a town-wide outdoor lighting ordinance (Local Law #7), without decisive action to stem the process of needlessly and destructively lighting up the night elsewhere, the light pollution problem will only worsen.  It will not only continue to hamper our ability to bring the wonders of astronomy to others, but it will also continue to degrade the nocturnal environment and to waste precious energy and taxpayer dollars.

The Healthy, Safe and Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Act would begin the process of restoring the glories of the night sky to everyone and will help us to continue our educational mission.  It will render other benefits to the general population as well.

Therefore, the Syracuse Astronomical Society formally urges all members of the New York State Legislature to act promptly and decisively to pass A7281/S2714, the Healthy, Safe and Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Act.  If the SAS and its membership can, in any way, be of service in emphasizing the importance of issues raised by A7281/S2714, please do not hesitate to contact myself at (315) 559-4737 or damian@somewhereville.com.

Thank you.

Damian G. Allis, Ph.D.
Syracuse Astronomical Society

cc:  Senators Smith, Valesky, DeFrancisco; Assemblymen Kolb, Silver; Governor Paterson

For more information on light pollution and legislation, I recommend visiting (and supporting) SELENE-NY and the International Dark Sky Organization. We also have a page (written by Dr. McMahon) at the SAS website.