The View from the Mountaintop ..... At Night by Fred Holmes
Far from the bright lights of the city, the nighttime view of the sky from the mountaintop is a breathtaking sight. But have you ever wondered whether that point of light is a planet or a star or a meteor? Or when you should look at the moon to see the most craters? If so, read on . . .
This summer is a good one to view the moon. Each night after the sun sets, the moon will move farther and farther away from the sun. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to look at the moon because the shadows cast at those times will show the topography of the moon most clearly. It is actually better to view the moon when it is at a quarter or half moon than when the moon is full because there are no shadows at full moon. Most newspapers include the phases of the moon on the weather section and you can check there to determine the best nights for viewing. Use binoculars to view the moon – a person using binoculars can see the moon better than a person using the best telescopes on earth can see Mars!
Don’t worry that you forgot to pack the telescope. The best optical instrument to have is a pair of binoculars. Chances are that there is an old pair lying around the cottage some- where. Binoculars have designations such as 7 x 35 or 10 x 50. The first number is the magnification. The second is the size of the front lens. The larger the second number, the more light is gathered and the brighter the image. Of course, the larger lenses will also make the binoculars heavier – sit back in a reclining beach chair to ward off tired arms and sore necks. Adding a good star atlas to your kit will fully outfit you for viewing the entire sky. Keep safety in mind – never look at the sun with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope. The optic nerve does not have pain receptors and blindness
will occur before pain is felt.
The best time to see craters on the moon is during the first quarter, which is day 7 after the new moon. It is called first quarter because it is one-fourth of the way around the earth but looks half-full. Here are the “crater days” for 2010: January 20-24; February 18-22; March 20-24; April 18-22; May 17-21; June 15-19; July 15-19; August 13-17; Sep- tember 12-16; October 11-15; November 10-14; Decem- ber 9-14.
The dark patches on the moon are “oceans” and are made of lava. The bright areas have many craters. Sometimes a cen- ter peak in a crater will experience sunrise over the course of an evening while you are watching! Third quarter viewing will show the moon and its craters just as well, but the moon rises early in the morning and chances are that while on vaca- tion, you would rather sleep in.
The best show in the skies this summer will be the Per- seids. This is the main meteor shower of the year. It occurs every August 11. This year the two-day old moon will not interfere with the show.
Those who long for good views of the planets this sum- mer will have to truly be night owls, with the exception of Venus. Venus will be very bright in the west after the sun sets by August. It reaches its greatest distance from the sun on August 20 and its greatest brilliance a month later. Un- fortunately, Jupiter is opposite the sun in the sky on Septem- ber 21, so to view it in July or August you will have to stay up very late. Mars and Saturn are visible in late winter and early spring, but will be gone by summer. Mercury can be hunted beginning April 1; it peaks on April 8. Look for a bright “star” just after the sun sets in the west.
Join me on July 18th and Ray Williams on August 10th
for Astronomy Night.
Clear Skies!..........a traditional astronomy greeting.
Geocaching with the Mokoma Conservancy
By Rosanne Mistretta
Have you heard of geocaching? Do you own a GPS? Do you like adventure and finding treasure? Then you should try the geocaching program with the Mokoma Conservancy this summer! Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors in a variety of settings. The containers can have a multitude of interesting items in them. Once found, you leave the geocache in place, then record your find on www.geocaching.com The hike to the container could be long, or you could find one right in a downtown urban area. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, and develops knowledge of the environment, geography, and history of an area. Believe it or not, there are dozens of geocaches in Sullivan County and two located right on the Mokoma Conser- vancy property (and there are several in Eagles Mere). The Conservancy program will teach you the fundamentals of the sport, even if you don’t have your own GPS, and then you’ll be able to go out and do it on your own. I’ve discovered geocaches in Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Colorado, Oregon, Canada, Switzerland, and Italy, so it is a fun activity you can do on every vacation! Geocaching is just one of the programs that Mokoma Conservancy will be offering next summer so be sure to check out all of our programming when you’re in Sullivan County.