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International Dark Sky Week

Given the (usually) balmy weather in April during a week when moonlight won’t interfere, the International Dark Sky Association is encouraging everyone to step outside at night, look up, and enjoy the beauty of the sky. In some urban locales the effect of the coronavirus pandemic makes this even more apropos, since there has been a noticeable reduction of air pollutants being emitted, accompanied by a darkening of city lights as businesses shut down. While such impacts on Lyons are probably not that noticeable, the idea remains: Why not go outside anyway and take a look? You’ve been cooped up for weeks–what else have you got to do? Tell yourself now is the ideal time to learn some star names and identify a new constellation or two, just like you’ve always been promising yourself.

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Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! (astronomy)

According to the 1988 film Beetlejuice, the incantation in this article’s headline will summon the unpredictable entity Betelgeuse to explosive life–and a lot of folks, including this author, are hoping it will work.
ast week, we promised we would talk more about the very bright red star Betelgeuse that marks the right armpit of the constellation of Orion. The occasion is this: The star actually isn’t very bright anymore. What was once the 11th brightest star in the sky has now dwindled to number 28, and it keeps on falling.

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The Hunter In Winter (astronomy)

Orion the Hunter is probably the most recognized and easily identified constellation in the entire sky. As a bonus, the stellar stick-figure even somewhat resembles the mythological character it represents. We envision him standing facing us with either a bow, shield, or his quarry held in his outstretched left hand, while with his upraised right limb he wields a sword (or sometimes club). His belt of three bright stars is prominent and unmistakable. Hanging down from the belt are what appear to be three fainter stars, representing either his sword or its scabbard.

Living on the Edge (astronomy)
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Living on the Edge (astronomy)

Folks in and around Lyons are accustomed to living on the edge. We’re not quite out on the flats, but not fully into the mountains either. We have one foot in the urban corridor, and the other in the wilderness. We’re right on the edge of the dome of night light that hangs over the Denver metropolitan area.

Late this past summer, I set out to investigate the impact of that glow on both visual stargazing and astrophotography. I ran tests from my rural home in X Bar 7, Sandstone Park in downtown Lyons, and the parking lot at Village at the Peaks (formerly Twin Peaks Mall) in Longmont.

Night skies above Lyons (astronomy)
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Night skies above Lyons (astronomy)

Humanity seems to have an insatiable desire to assign numerical scales to just about anything relating to size, quality, beauty, distance–anything that can be measured. But at times we seem to have trouble knowing whether we’re going forward or backward. A first-degree murder is considered more heinous than a second-degree one, but a third-degree burn is considerably worse than a second-degree burn. You would not want to be around for a magnitude 8 earthquake, while you likely would not even feel a magnitude 3 tremor. With beauty, a rating of 10 is considered absolute perfection, whereas it is the worst you can imagine when it comes to pain.
Against this setting of numerical confusion, we have the system of “stellar magnitudes,” which assigns a number to how bright a star appears in the sky.