Articles, activities for boomers & seniors
Humankind has been looking up at the night sky forever in awe and wonder. The earliest records of this date back thousands of years — Cave drawings have been found showing constellations, to which some cultures gave names of gods and animals. Others used the movement of the sun and stars to determine when to plant and when to harvest. At the same time, astronomers were asking questions about the nighttime sky — especially, “What’s out there?”
Astronomy is an ever-changing science as we learn more and more about not just the Milky Way Galaxy that we live in, but our entire universe. Aristotle learned that the world was round by studying the phases of Venus. He noticed it would cycle like our moon. The famous Hubble Telescope Deep Field image is a great example of our knowledge being changed forever. Hubble was pointed at an area of the sky about the size of a postage stamp, expecting not to see too much. To our amazement, the image was filled with thousands of galaxies pictured at right.
Astronomy can be enjoyed by all ages. I remember showing a 70-year-young gentleman Jupiter for the first time, through a telescope. He was in awe at being able to see this. Listening to the “Oh wow” of someone when they see craters on the moon for the first time — I’ve never tired of that "Oh wow" moment. OK, now that I have your interest, how can you, your children, and grandchildren, enjoy this lifelong hobby? In the Lehigh Valley, that answer is very easy: the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomy Society (LVAAS), conveniently located on the top of South Mountain, just a few minutes east of I-78 on East Rock Rd.
The non-profit LVAAS has been serving the Lehigh Valley since 1957,hosting numerous activities throughout the year. LVAAS is a group of hard-working volunteers dedicated to helping our community enjoy and learn about astronomy. Each month, from spring through fall, we host a public Star Party. We do two planetarium shows — the first geared towards children, and the later show geared towards adults. There is a speaker between shows. Once that is over and the skies are clear enough, we start enjoying the night sky. LVAAS has three telescopes on site, and some members bring their own scopes and set them up for everyone to enjoy. We have snacks and drinks available for purchase, as well as clothing articles. Attending one of these star parties is a great way to test the waters of astronomy before diving in. For the time being, our Star Parties are limited to members only, hoping that by September or October we can return to normal. If you or someone in your family decides they like astronomy but aren’t sure how to go about it, our members are a wealth of knowledge.
If you choose to join LVAAS, we have a selection of telescopes that members can rent. Perhaps you have a cabin up north where the night skies are darker. You can rent a scope for your journey as a member of LVAAS. Membership is very affordable. Hey, What about backyard astronomy? If you can see stars in your backyard, you can still have fun with astronomy. A great start is learning the constellations and naming the stars in them. When do they appear in the sky during the year? Why do they move? What is the story behind the name of the constellations? Who was Hercules, anyway? Many of these stories are embedded in Greek mythology. Ursa Major, The Great Bear, or the Big Dipper — How do all these names apply to one constellation and why?
Did you know that the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper has another, fainter star very close to it? The story is that Native Americans used this as a vision test for young braves. If they could see both of those stars, their elders knew they had vision good enough to hunt for game. Have a few reclining lawn chairs? Get them ready, bundle up, and go out and watch for the Perseid meteor showers! Are they every night? No, they are only at a certain time of year. Well how do we know when to watch? This has never been easier, with numerous programs, apps, and publications that tell you what’s in the sky tonight — where, when, and how long it will be visible.
A very nice and simple program to use is called "Stellarium." It is free and you can load it on a computer or phone. You can set the time and date for any day or time you wish and see what will be in the sky that night. An app like Sky Safari will also help you find items in the night sky because it has a compass mode. You just point it at the sky and it will tell you what you are looking at. More advanced users can even control their telescope with these programs. Two very good magazines that make excellent gifts for budding astronomers are Astronomy and Sky and Telescope. So, if you want to relive what our relatives saw thousands of years ago, just step outside, look up, and imagine what might be there. Upcoming sky spectaculars Meteor showers occur throughout the year and can vary in intensity from year to year.
Meteor showers occur when Earth is passing through debris left from an asteroid or comet as they orbit the sun and lose some of their material. The Orionids this Oct. 21st and 22nd will be passing through debris from Halley’s Comet. Meteor showers are rated by intensity or number of meteors per hour. These are just best guesses since we have no way of knowing how many dust particles the earth will actually be going through. A fun fact of meteors is, when you see one, keep in mind that most meteors are no bigger than a grain (meteoroid) of sand streaking across our atmosphere. A meteor that is brighter than Venus is called a Fireball. It is rare for any of these items to actually make it through Earth’s atmosphere and fall to Earth. Meteors that reach the surface of Earth are called "meteorites."
How to observe a meteor shower
• Get a very comfortable reclining lawn chair.
• Dress warm because you could be sitting out a long time, even in the summer.
• Look to the part of the sky that the meteor shower is coming from. Ex. Leonids come from near the Leo constellation.
• Hope that you have a clear dark sky. Both the moon and local light pollution can have a huge impact on how many, if any, meteors you will see.
Upcoming showers this fall
1. Oct. 7th The Draconids
2. Oct. 21st and 22nd Orionids
3. Nov. 4th and 5th Taurids
4. Nov. 17th and 18th Leonids
Another fall event will be a partial lunar eclipse on Nov. 19th. This will be fully visible from our location between 2 and 6 A.M. A lunar eclipse happens when Earth passes between the moon and the sun. Our shadow blocks out the moon either fully or partially. The moon typically takes on a reddish hue in the area of the shadow. So, prep your favorite lawn chair, sit back, and enjoy the "stellar" star shows this fall.
For more information, go to LVAAS.org or call 610- 797-3476 and leave a message.