Syracuse Astronomical Society President's Message for January/February, 2008

A repost of the original at the Syracuse Astronomical Society website.

Happy New Year Fellow Astrophiles! Let's get right to it…

The Tradition Continues…

Four fearless drivers/SAS Board members and Herschel, the Observatory Director's Canis Major, braved the Darling Hill drive New Year's Day for the annual Observatory toast. The image at left shows Ray Dague, John McMahon, Mike Brady, and Dan O'Shea in their winter best. At right, well, I'll let you figure out the musical chairs.

Click on an image for a larger view.

Bob Piekiel's Baltimore Woods Winter Viewing

The year begins with a few scheduling points to help dust off your winter sky charts. Baltimore Woods ( is holding one viewing session a month in January (general viewing) and February (for the total lunar eclipse), the two months the SAS is almost guaranteed to not be able to make it up the driveway at the Darling Hill Observatory. The two viewing sessions are being hosted by Robert Piekiel, a noted astronomer, author of the e-book Celestron: The Early Years, and (if I have the right Bob Piekiel) banjoist. If you thought turning scope knobs was difficult at 30 Fahrenheit, imagine plucking metal strings!

From Baltimore Woods:

January 11:, "Star Party: Starlight on Snow," 6 – 8 p.m., 4007 Bishop Hill Rd., Marcellus. Longer winter nights give us more time to enjoy the stars that light up our skies. Enjoy close-up views of these night-lights through the telescopes of astronomer Bob Piekiel. Large groups welcome. This is a great program for kids who are interested in astronomy. Dress for the weather. Members $2, families $5; non-members $5, families $15. Back-up date Jan. 12. Please call 673-1350 to register.February 20:, "Star Party: Lunar Eclipse," 8:30 – 10:30 p.m., 4007 Bishop Hill Rd., Marcellus. Join astronomer Bob Piekiel to catch a glimpse of this rare astronomical event while you can. The next lunar eclipse in North America isn't until 2010! Large groups welcome. This is a great program for kids who are interested in astronomy. Dress for the weather. Members $2, families $5; non-members; $15 family. Please call 673-1350 to register.

A Little About Baltimore Woods:

Baltimore Woods is located at 4007 Bishop Hill Rd., Marcellus, about 15 minutes from Syracuse. It is a private, not-for-profit nature center and environmental education organization committed to promoting environmental awareness, understanding, and responsible natural resource stewardship among all people, especially children.The 182-acre property contains stream, woodland, meadow and pond habitats, which are managed to attract birds and wildlife.There are more than six miles of trails for the public to enjoy, ranging from .15 miles long to more than a mile in length. Terrain on the various trails ranges from flat to hilly, and the hiking difficulty from easy to difficult, depending on the trail.Gardens on the property include Herb, Perennial, Wildflower and Weavers & Dyers, and there is an Arboretum Trail that showcases the trees of Baltimore Woods.There is no admission charge for parking or to enter Baltimore Woods, although donations are always welcome.The John Weeks Interpretive Center, containing restrooms, exhibits and meeting space, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and the entire property is open for hiking (and snowshoeing during the winter) from dawn to dusk.We ask that you please do not bring dogs to Baltimore Woods.You can get more information about programs, trails and volunteer opportunities available at Baltimore Woods by calling 673-1350 or visiting our web site at

South Jersey Astronomy Club 2008 Star Party

I received this message a week ago from the South Jersey Astronomy Club, another optimisitc group of stargazers planning an early start to the viewing year (about the time of the year when one can stand being outside for an hour or more unphased). Yes, this does coincide with the opening of the Darling Hill Observatory weekend, so I post this for other interested parties (because, of course, YOU'LL be in Tully) or anyone that will be in the Juy'sey area that weekend. We don't care which organization you're looking up with that weekend, just be looking up!

From the South Jersey Astronomy Club:

Before you ring in the New Year…MARK YOUR CALENDAR NOW FOR THE 2008 SOUTH JERSEY SPRING STAR PARTY: April 4-6, 2008 ~ Belleplain State Forest, Cape May County, NJ.Save the date, and make plans now to attend the 2008 SOUTH JERSEY SPRING STAR PARTY! This "no frills" event will take place over the April 4-6, 2008 weekend at beautiful Belleplain State Forest in northern Cape May County, NJ. Bring your tent, supplies and telescope — weather permitting, the Star Party features some of the best dark-sky viewing conditions in the region!There's camping on the five-acre observing field, and nearby you'll find plenty of other camp sites, hot showers and other amenities. The area is famous for its ecology and natural beauty, and there are plenty of attractions to see during the day. Pre-register now and get 50% off the regular registration cost of the Star Party! Visit and click on the SOUTH JERSEY STAR PARTY. Sign up now to reserve your space!WHAT: The 2008 South Jersey Spring Star PartyWHERE: Belleplain State Forest in northern Cape May County, NJWHEN: April 4-6, 2008 (Friday-Sunday)MORE INFO: or contact Ray Maher, President of SJAC at

The Tibbitts Takes

Yet another CNY astrophotographer (after our own Stu Forster) is willing to sacrifice life, limb, and equipment (!) in the interest of capturing images of the night's sky. The following two images were taken by David Tibbitts, the first of the full Moon (anyone that's tried to take a magnified photo of the Moon knows how easy it is to overexpose the image and completely ruin the view. This one came out quite well balanced), the second of Comet Holmes in exactly the same diffuse appearance I observed in my 7×50 binoculars. I hope to have many more messages include astrophotography from both David and Stu. They are certainly far more interesting than what I have to say about them.

Click on either image for a larger view.

An Odd Use Of An Observatory Scope

During the closest approach of Mars in August of 2003 the SAS hosted a very well-attended viewing party (that started at 8 p.m. and went well beyond 2 a.m. I remember little except the phenomenal cold I suffered for two weeks after). As the night began to approach morning, I used my last time at the observatory scope to attempt a photo of Mars at high magnification. In my ignorance, I left the flash on during my first attempt, yielding the image shown below. I've still not diagnosed it completely, but do recognize (a) the small orange ball is Mars with the polar ice cap barely visible at about 12 o'clock and a bit of equatorial color splotches visible, (b) what I think is my left eye through the view window (haven't we all seen those floaters when we look just right at a light source?). And this is why I don't do astrophotography anymore…

Click on the image for a larger view.

Best Views Of The Year At Bad Astronomy

Phil Plait isn't a bad astronomer at all. With a doctorate in the field and one very well received book to his name (the aptly titled "Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing 'Hoax'"), one would argue that he knows "bad astronomy" when he sees it. His website,, is full of his own writings on astronomical misconceptions, flat-out astronomical falsehoods in movies and TV (did anyone else wonder how the shuttle "banked" in Armageddon?), and a very popular (among scientific sites, anyway) blog. One of his most popular posts of the year highlighted ten of the best celestial eye candy of 2007. Instead of reposting all of his selections, I recommend spending a few minutes reading through his descriptions and, of course, following the links to more information (a good scientist, he never forgets his references. In the case of the web, that means links back to the sources). The site's certainly enlightening enough to consider a deeper perusal.

In Dr. Plait's own words…

Science doesn't take away from the beauty of nature. It enhances it, multiplies it.There are so many incredible astronomical photographs released every year that picking ten as the most beautiful is a substantial task. But it becomes easier when you consider the science behind the image as well. Does this image tell us more than that one? Was the scientific result drawn from an image surprising, or did it firm up a previously considered hypothesis?Still, there's something to be said for a simple, drop dead gorgeous picture.

Click the image to go to

I will, however, post the video that made the Top 10 to whet your appetite for one of the far more profound applications of youtube. This movie is a transit of our own Moon as seen from the two satellites that make up the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO. When we view such events on Earth, we call them eclipses, a coincidental (depending on who you talk to, of course) result of the Moon and Sun appearing to be the same size from our terrestrial vantage point.

2007 WD5 Rendezvous With Mars (or Not)

This will either be a very interesting event or, well, it won't. According to NASA calculations, asteroid 2007 WD5 now (as of this post) has a 4% chance of impacting the Martian surface on January 30 at10:56 UT. While a 4% chance is pretty low by most standards, this represents a major possibility by astronomical standards, although nothing will likely come of it as NASA and other agencies make more observations and refine the likely path of the asteroid as it crosses Mars' orbit. Then again, an impact crater would make an excellent addition to the February Message… Keep track of astronomy websites towards the end of the month for more information. If an impact will happen, you'll be sure Astronomy Magazine and Sky and Telescope will be covering it as front-page material.

Black, White, and Red Acetate All Over

The good Dr. Forster sent the following animated GIF file from someone "speaking truth to precipitation" about the usual viewing session of your typical amateur astronomer. Proof that the quality of the presentation does not always detract from the message.

Click to go to the animated GIF (originally from

Passage Of The Tully Lighting Ordinance

Member of the SAS Board and I are pleased to report on the successful efforts of our own John McMahon on the passage of a new Tully Lighting Ordinance (Local Law #7 – 2007). Whereas many astronomers talk-the-talk about light pollution and the diminution of our viewable celestial objects, Dr. McMahon has a long history of walking-the-walk (or running-the-run, as it were) as part of his work with SELENE-NY, his efforts on the Tully Town Board, and even as closing thoughts in the past few of his presentations I've had the pleasure of attending. Control of lighting, more efficient lighting, appropriately installed lighting is good for night viewing, it's good for energy conservation, it's even good for differentiating night and day.

A snippet from a draft copy:

"These regulations are intended to reduce problems created by improperly designed and installed outdoor lighting, and to enhance the natural beauty of the night sky and preserve the rural nature of our community. The objective is to reduce or eliminate problems of glare, minimize light trespass on adjoining properties and reduce energy consumption by establishing regulations that limit the types of acceptable outdoor lighting fixtures and their illumination levels. By regulating outdoor lighting, community character and aesthetics will be enhanced and excessive lighting that can become a distraction of [sic] traveling public and an annoyance to occupants of neighboring properties caused by improper lighting can be avoided."

Jack Troeger's Dark Sky Initiative Website

To continue the lighting and dark sky theme and finish this month's message, I'm including the contents of an email I received from Jack Troeger, the owner/webmaster/vocal proponent/the "dark knight of the night" at I specifically note the first few lines of the opening page of his site:

"Light Pollution wastes $5 Million nightly,magnifying global climate change!"

Energy, and ways to move ourselves out from the inefficient use of it in modern society, has finally become a major issue in government and media due to the state of the world. It is also a very direct way to address the light pollution issue to people that might otherwise not see the significance of freezing outside all night behind binoculars in the age of the Hubble Telescope. Do check out his site and offer your support!

From Jack Troeger:

I am a charter Member-at-Large of the Astronomical League, a 64 year old lifelong amateur astronomer (stargeezer), and retired high school earth science (astronomy / geology / meteorology) teacher. I do not believe we astronomers should flee like cockroaches to the dark corners of the country whenever the lights are turned on. We have a right to starlight, and we must fight harder to protect it and rescue it. Once upon a time I believed we could rescue and restore dark skies using the currently applied strategies, but they have not been effective. After careful review and analysis, I am now convinced we must press forward with all possible dispatch creating and initiating new and more effective tactics. I've begun posting periodic reflections and refractions (R & R) on my website as well as rewritten links. You won't always agree with my scribblings (I hope), but perhaps they will stir some astronomical stew and motivate all of us to press forward… If we do nothing new or different immediately, the Milky Way will soon be extinct.Please share my new website with your group, post it on your organization's website, and respond to my sincere, unconventional efforts.Thank you. Sunny Days and Milky Way Nights,Jack TroegerDark Sky InitiativeAmes, Iowa

Our friends in the South Jersey Astronomy Club also have a webpage devoted to light pollution and I would hope ANY astronomy club has a page about the same to spread the message.And that's the story for the new year. Do stay tuned for more information on mid-winter/early spring viewing sessions and, of course, don't forget about the Space Science Series meeting in February. Hope to see you.

Space is the place,
Damian Allis, Ph.D.

Links Used Above (Subject To Web Changes)

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