"Here, take my trash!" "No, I donít want it!" "You must take it, the courts say you canít interfere with interstate commerce." Thus is summed up the recent efforts to limit the importing of out-of-state trash into Virginiaís for-profit landfills. We are, in fact, one of the largest importers of other statesí throw-aways, and nobody I talk to seems to like it. Yet many of your neighbors, both commercial and residential, are throwing another form of "trash" in your direction, and you may not even be aware of it.
I write, of course, about "light pollution." Unwanted, wasteful light that benefits nobody except the power company, which earns them money for every kilowatt-hour you consume, whether it brings you any benefit or not. Lights supposedly installed for security, yet which simultaneously blind you so that you cannot see who may be lurking in the shadows, while advertising to would-be miscreants that here is something to steal or someone to victimize.
Youíve seen, Iím sure, the composite night-time satellite images of the world, with the industrialized countries lit up like so many Las Vegas casinos. All that light, all that money, all that energy, wasted. Millions of dollars to light the sky instead of the sidewalk. How many barrels of oil, in a time when we are told that the supply is insufficient to meet demand?
Youíve heard, no doubt, that businesses donít like "dark skies" ordinances, that they claim them to be too intrusive. Is it intrusive to insist that lights intended for security actually make us more secure, rather than less so? Is it intrusive to ask businesses to spend less money on unnecessary lighting, so that they can be more competitive with lower energy costs Ė maybe even lower prices because of reduced overhead? Is it intrusive to ask for the night sky to be seen, rather than someoneís intrusive outdoor lights?
Next month Iíll discuss outdoor lighting which is environmentally friendly, inexpensive and cost-effective to operate, and which will open to our children the wonders of the night sky.
Lunar phases for October: First Quarter on the 5th, at 6:59 am; Full Moon on the 13th, at 4:53 am; Last Quarter on the 20th, at 3:59 am; New Moon on the 27th, at 3:58 am.
Planet viewing will be better as the month wears on, at least for those looking in early evening. Venus will be higher at sunset towards the end of October, though Mercury will be lower and lower, essentially disappearing into the glare of the Sun by mid-month. It will be at inferior conjunction (in the same direction as the Sun, on this side of the Sun) on the 29th. The 29th also marks the end of Daylight Saving Time Ė donít forget to reset your clocks! Jupiter and Saturn begin the month rising about 3 hours after sunset, but will appear about 1 ĺ hours after sunset by the end of the month. Predawn observers will find Jupiter very bright to the southwest, with Saturn a bit paler and about 11 degrees to the lower right of its larger cousin.
Our midmonth view of the sky, roughly two hours after sunset, finds Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus, almost directly at zenith. To the west we find brighter Vega, and to the south Altair. These mark the "winter triangle". Cygnus also marks the plane of our home, the Milky Way Galaxy, as we indicated last month, as well as the general direction in which our Sun orbits the center of our Galaxy. Sweeping slowly your binoculars from Vega towards the WNW horizon, in the constellation Hercules you may notice the great Globular Cluster in Hercules Ė also known by its Messier Catalog number, M13. To the northeast, note the lazy W shape of Cassiopeia. Follow with your binoculars a trail of stars running nearly parallel with the horizon, and in the faint constellation Andromeda you may see a faintly luminous patch Ė the is the Andromeda Galaxy, some 2 million light years distant and the furthest object you can observe without a large telescope. You should, in fact, be able to pick it out on a clear, moonless night without even binoculars. This galaxy is approximately the same type and size as our own Ė someone there may be looking at the Milky Way with the same sense of wonder.
That giant square between Deneb and the eastern horizon is Pegasus. Just as Cygnus marks the plane of the Galaxy, towards Pegasus you are looking out of the plane, with far fewer stars visible, even with binoculars.