March 30, 2020

The Urban Astronomer

Living on the flight path – an aircraft approaches

the Full April Pink Moon. Photo by Author.

Quick: where’s your very own personal observatory?

In an ideal world, most amateur astronomers would simply live in an iconic dome observatory, perched on a windswept mountain under perpetually clear dark skies. [Read more...]

Dark Skies 2014: The Journey Begins

Astro-Lab, ready for departure…

The first single step is almost upon us…

Welcome to the brave new world of Astroguyz. Ever since we decided to “check out that blogging thing” seven years ago in May 2007, we’ve been about change.  Sure, the web has changed and we’ve evolved along with it.

This week, we’re taking that evolution a step further as we prepare to embark on an extended sabbatical across the United States, and perhaps, beyond. Starting in Florida next week on June 1st, we’ll be meandering northward in search of that most elusive and mythical beastie of all: truly dark skies. [Read more...]

Review: The End of Night by Paul Bogard

On sale now!

It’s tough finding a good dark sky site these days. I was fortunate to grow up in northern Maine’s Aroostook County, which boasted nearly pristine dark skies back in the 1970s. And when we camped out at Third Lake- a pond so remote that fighter jets from Loring Air Force base buzzed it on their way to practice bombing runs- the sky was an unparalleled inky black. [Read more...]

Review: The City Dark.

Our own increasingly light polluted backyard…

(Photo by Author)

This week, we wanted to give a shout-out to a crucial film. Amidst our burgeoning suburban development, our night skies are slowly disappearing. We’ve written about this many times before, and perhaps many people see this as a singular niche interest. The recent independent film The City Dark by Ian Cheney takes issue with that, exploring the reality and consequences of the loss of our night sky. Like me, the director grew up in Maine, and had the now almost-unheard-of luxury of having pristine dark skies right on his door step. Now, may backyard observers must drive ever increasing distances to simply have the Milky Way visible overhead. Few people have ever witnessed a true dark sky site, where clouds look like shadows and you can’t see your hand in front of you.

We managed to catch the film in its abbreviated 60 minute form on its recent run on the PBS series POV. (Only a month, guys?) The film has been making the indie rounds in the US, and we’re patiently awaiting its online/Netflix release on an as-yet-to-be determined date.

The director of The City Dark crisscrosses the county and documents the vanishing night skies. Does brighter = safer? What is the true cost of illuminating the underbellies of night time clouds and aircraft? What is the cost to nature and us? Far from just pure aesthetics, it’s noted in the film (& recently on this site) that the American Medical Association has stated that light pollution is a major health concern.

We’ve documented light pollution in our own neighborhood and urge others to do the same. We’ve even made limiting magnitude estimations from the most light polluted site in the world, the Strip in Las Vegas. We could just make out the belt of Orion at +2 magnitude, though we were the only glazed-eyed tourist looking skyward to even notice.

Perhaps many non-astros roll their eyes when they hear of light pollution; here, they think, is yet one more thing to worry about in the modern world, along with global warming, terrorism, and “how big is too big” for the latest flat screen TV. I always find that folks do pay attention, however, when it hits their wallet. In fact, with the recent economic downturn, many municipalities are “turning off” to excessive nighttime lighting.

I see the loss as something insidious to the poetic nature of our culture; perhaps the biggest crime is that few actually miss the beauty of the night sky. We’ve become less familiar with nature than ever before, with sightings of such pedestrian objects as Venus or Jupiter being mistaken for UFO’s. (Search YouTube; playing “debunk the homemade UFO vid” can be a fun game!)

Do make an effort to check out A City Dark, and get involved with Dark Sky activism starting viewing the film and a visit to the International Dark Sky Association. This is one you definitely shouldn’t miss, but like many indie gems, you have to seek it out. We’ll let you know when/if it comes back up for watching via PBS/YouTube/Netflix etc in the coming weeks, just follow us on (shameless plug for) @Astroguyz on Twitter!

Review: The Hooded Observing Vest from Dark Sky Apparel.

The Hooded Observing Vest in Action!

Looking for the perfect gift for that astronomy-obsessed someone in your life this Xmas? (OK… we don’t call ourselves obsessed, but you know…)

No doubt you’ve heard that same someone complain about the neighbor’s million candle-watt power floodlights, or accompanied them in a 100 mile quest for truly dark skies… if only there was a way to bring the dark skies to you… [Read more...]

13.10.11-The Great World-Wide Star Count Wants YOU!!!

Save our skies… (Photo by Author).

Ever wanted to do something about light pollution? Now you can, by bearing witness to the conditions of your (hopefully not deteriorating) night-time sky. This weekend, the Great World Wide Star Count gets underway, running from October 14th to the 28th.  Established in 2007, this annual event invites students, astronomy groups, and just plain ole’ individuals to look up and gauge the conditions of their local sky. The process is simple, and much like any good citizen science program, anyone can do “real science” after a brief ten minute tutorial straight off of the street. [Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: The Changing (?) Colors of 95 Herculis.

I love double stars. While many a wispy nebulae are elusive and vanish at the first hint of light pollution, double stars tend to stand up well under the less than optimal viewing circumstances that plague most of us. I’ve pulled off many a moonless star party from light-polluted urban areas by adding bright double stars to the menu, a handy item to have in your repertoire when a decent planet is nowhere to be found. [Read more...]

Observing from the ‘Hood’: Good Targets for Bright Skies.

If you’re like us here at Astroguyz HQ, you find yourself in the ‘burbs under increasingly brightening night skies. But you want to use that shiny new Christmas telescope, right? What follows is a list of objects that you can view tonight from the comfort of your backyard, can of beer and barbeque in hand. This list also serves as a peek at our star party faves, which can frequently occur under less than optimal skies; [Read more...]

05.10.09 The 3rd Annual Great World Wide Star Count!

Tired of the deteriorating sky conditions in your neighborhood? Remember a childhood when the Milky way was visible in your backyard, such as it was in our native rural northern Maine? Now there is something that you can do about it. The Great World Wide Star Count wants you to measure the limiting magnitude from your locale in an effort to document light pollution. Its simple; if you can locate the constellation Cygnus in the northern hemisphere and Sagittarius in the southern, then you can participate. No equipment is required, just your eyes, and a tutorial is included on the site. This is the third year around for the Star Count, and we’ve participated here at Astroguyz for the last two years running. It’s great fun to see the reports from various areas, as well as were the astronomers are! This year, the dates run from October 9th to the 23rd, and you can enter reports from multiple sites…put your town on the map! Post Anti-Light Pollution slogans! Show the neighbor the damage that vintage “Battle of Britain” anti-aircraft spotlight is causing! We prefer to document our impressions of the sky for later entry via digital voice recorder, but you’ll no doubt settle on your own system. Now is the time to try a “dry-run” a night or two before the Count starts Friday…anyone thought of posting observations via Twitter? What would be really great is to get reports from such off-the-wall locales such as Thule, Greenland or Poipet, Cambodia…do your part to raise light pollution awareness in your neighborhood!

The AMA Joins the Fight!

Astronomers now have a new powerful ally in the fight against light pollution; the American Medical Association(AMA). The June 16, 2009 vote was passed unanimously to recognize light pollution as a health hazard, further moving the cause from a special interest plea to a general mainstream concern. The AMA has echoed with its large voice what we’ve suspected all along; humans need darkness. A lack thereof in major urban areas has encroached on the suburbs and formerly pristine rural areas and can contribute to sleep deprivation and elevated stress levels. In addition, the glare itself can pose a safety hazard for night-time drivers. I’ve personally driven in many urban areas were headlights weren’t even necessary, and hence forgot to turn them on! And let’s not forget the impact on wildlife, or the waste in cash, illuminating the undersides of aircraft…. or the needless increase in CO2 emissions. Let’s hope this not-so-minor move brings back our night skies!