Dark Sky Magic at Ballycroy National Park Mayo Ireland
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“The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.” – Carl Sagan There is something deeply magical about a truly dark night sky. Objects that you would strain to see or not see at all in suburbia populate every eye movement. Peripheral vision fine tunes to a state of high alert with ease. Observing rewards even before dark adaption. My visit to Ballycroy National Park in Co Mayo reminded me of so many holidays in the west of Ireland long ago when our children were young. After a day of extreme foggy conditions across the whole country I was not expecting to see any stars at all. Shortly after my talk we went outside to check up on things. Even with some small lights on in the visitors centre the sky was mind-blowing. Ballycroy National Park I had been introduced to Georgia MacMillan from the Mayo Dark Skies team by … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
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This column first appeared in The Tablet in October 2008 Black Mesa, Oklahoma sounds like the setting for a Hollywood Western. It looks like one, too. Every year at the Okie-Tex Star Party, three hundred amateur astronomers camp out for a week with their telescopes there, in hopes of dark dry skies. Some of their “amateur” instruments are larger in aperture than the telescopes of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo. The miracle of computerized fabrication and the modern Dobsonian mount (a way of holding a telescope in place that replaces complex hardware with simple Teflon pads) has brought the cost of quality optics to the point where the price of a large telescope can be less than that of a small automobile. My GPS unit directed me as far as Boise City, two hours north of Amarillo, Texas; after that, I was following roads too small for most maps. I was there to give a series of talks during … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Awareness
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This column first appeared in The Tablet in May, 2010 “Adolescence,” said my colleague, the father of two teen-aged boys, “is when you’re filled with self-consciousness and completely lacking in self-awareness.” We were watching the students on his campus, obsessed with how they looked while being utterly out of touch with how they actually came across to other people. Of course, it is not just teen-agers. We marvel at how politicians, whose business is selling themselves, can make themselves look so bad; or how often we hear advertising that provokes us to swear we’ll never buy that product. And then we wind up buying the goods anyway. All of us spend our days walking around in a fog, self-obsessed while never really aware of ourselves or the universe in which we live. (Well, that’s true of me, anyway.) Sometimes the fog is literally real. [In 2010, I was] participating in the Texas Star Party, a gathering of 500 amateur astronomers (and … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
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This column ran in The Tablet in July, 2005 The pictures from Nasa’s Deep Impact mission (see last month’s column) were spectacular. When the space probe hit Comet Temple 1, the heat of its impact made a brilliant flash; even observers on Earth could see it, and then watch the comet’s coma grow bigger and brighter as the dust and ice blasted off the comet spread out away from its nucleus. The Deep Impact astronomers (who, incidentally, insist they came up with that name before the Hollywood movie!) had planned for a network of observers, professional and amateur, to observe the comet before and after the impact. Here at the Vatican Observatory, we enlisted a dozen students from our [2005] summer school to help out. For two weeks, young astronomers from South America, Australia, and Europe gathered in the domes of our vintage 1935 Zeiss telescopes, perched atop the Pope’s summer home here in Castel Gandolfo, hoping to record an … Continue reading

Open Thread 3: Dark Vermillion Skies
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The effects of our Faith and Astronomy Workshop continue to echo. From Fr. Timothy Sauppé I received the following announcement  that he recently issued in his area: Formation of a Local Chapter of International Dark-Sky Association “Attention lovers of nature! Pollution comes in many forms! We can see the litter on the ground and smell the fouling of our air. Our ears become offended by unnecessary blaring car speakers in traffic. But most people don’t consider the most neglected of all forms of pollution…. the wasteful or unthoughtful night lighting otherwise known as light pollution. “Yes, at night we need to be able to see and to be safe, but with the growth of population, comes the ever increasing night lighting with no thought to its effects on people, the environment, and wildlife. If changes are not initiated, we will no longer be able to see nature’s greatest gift, the stars. Every new night light adds to the increasing glow … Continue reading

History of Light Pollution
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I gave a lecture about Light Pollution to the Michigan Electrical Contractors Association (MECA1953) on Monday March 16, 2015. I wanted to show how Light Pollution started, and has grown over time. The beginning of my lecture evolved into a “short history of humans using light”  – I learned quite a bit while doing the research for this lecture. I started the lecture out out with the image above, and asked “How many of you have gone up north, and seen this?” Of the 17 people there, only 3 raised their hands. I proceeded to talk about how humans started using light: – The Moon and stars. – Fire. (Stealthily, or cowardly, avoiding any mention of how long ago “Ancient Times” was…) – Torches. (See fire) – Oil lamps. (4500 BC) – Candles. (3000 BC) – The first street lights. (1000 AD) (Oil lamps) – The Papacy actively supporting astronomy research in the 18th century, and building: — The Observatory … Continue reading

International Year of Light: Cosmic Light in Arizona
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The United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Light to promote global awareness of optics and photonics. From the onset, the IYL project contains a dimension of great importance to the astronomical community, namely, quality lighting (and dark sky protection) for our continuing study of cosmic light and access to it. The International Astronomical Union’s Executive Committee WG on IYL is chaired by Richard Green who works at Steward Observatory. Richard convened a meeting of Southern Arizona professional observatories approach to IYL which took place on Wednesday, December 3, 2015. The Vatican Observatory was represented by Chris Corbally and me. The main action point is that we would like to work towards a kick-off event coinciding with Pi Day  on March 14 (3/14/15 9:26 pm) which also happens to be Einstein’s birthday. It is a Saturday and very close to the New Moon – a great opportunity for star parties. It also coincides with Tucson Festival of Book on UA … Continue reading