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The far-reaching effects of light, day and night

Greetings, stargazers.

I rarely get such a quick response to my monthly column. Two days after it came out last month, a group of politicians voted without discussion or opposition to institute daylight saving year-round. Clearly, they totally misunderstood my suggestion to end that misguided time warp. When the United States last tried permanent daylight saving in 1974, it was so unpopular during the first winter because of the late sunrises that the policy was quickly repealed. I believe this will happen again if it is allowed to take effect.

Quoting from the Wikipedia article, with numerous academic references, “Permanent standard time is considered by circadian health researchers and safety experts worldwide to be the best option for health, safety, schools and economy ...” This is why it is called standard. Durango is already a few degrees “west of center” in the time zone, so our local solar noon is always a few minutes after the clock says the sun should be at its highest point.

There are regular “lock the clock” bills introduced in Colorado that unfortunately don’t ever go far. Another idea that won’t go far is to follow astronomers and just use Coordinated Universal Time for everything (you might know it as Greenwich Mean Time). But setting our clocks ahead by seven hours from standard time won’t make teenagers want to get up any earlier.

On a darker note, the week of April 22-30 is International Dark-Sky Week. This is a good reminder that unneeded artificial light wastes energy, impacts wildlife, affects human health and blocks our view of the universe. If your outside lights aren’t on a timer, or motion sensor, this is a good month to add those features. Or just remember to turn the light out if you aren’t using it – maybe your neighbor is trying to get in some stargazing. I understand that some businesses want their insecurity lights, but motion sensors would make them much more effective. I encourage you to follow the link below and join the International Dark-Sky Association.

This month

We are still in the middle of galaxy season. Galaxies are really hard, if not impossible to see when you are looking through all the gas and dust in the plane of the Milky Way. When the Milky Way is high in the sky, that means galaxies aren’t. This month, the winter Milky Way, which roughly passes just to the east of Orion, is setting in the early evening and the summer Milky Way doesn’t rise until after midnight. That means the early evening sky is Milky Way free, and full of visible galaxies.

Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, rises in the northeastern evening sky and has many galaxies that can be seen with small telescopes or good binoculars from a dark location. M81 (Bode’s Galaxy) and M82 (the Cigar Galaxy) are two of the brightest galaxies visible in the Northern Hemisphere, and they can be seen in the same field of view under low magnification. They are an interesting pair in that it is easy to see they are different shapes. M101 is another large, face-on spiral galaxy. The Hubble Deep Field is in Ursa Major, but don’t expect to see any of those thousands of galaxies, as they were a challenge even for the space telescope.

Just to the south of Ursa Major, in the constellation Canes Venatici, M51 (the Whirlpool Galaxy) is one of the most photogenic galaxies, and M63 (the Sunflower Galaxy) is another nice spiral.

The planets are out in the morning sky. Venus, Mars and Saturn are in a short line along the ecliptic, and Jupiter is rising about 5:45 a.m. Later this month, there will be a surprisingly close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. On April 27, the crescent moon will be about 3 degrees from both Venus and Jupiter. Those are the three brightest things in the sky besides the sun. On April 30, when the moon is new, Venus and Jupiter will be less than half a degree apart. That will definitely be worth getting up early for, but you might even be able to see the pair in the daylight.

Charles Hakes teaches in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is the director of the Fort Lewis Observatory. Reach him at hakes_c@fortlewis.edu.

Useful links




ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod.

OLD FORT LEWIS OBSERVATORY: www.fortlewis.edu/observatory.


FOUR CORNERS STARGAZERS: https://bit.ly/2pKeKKa.