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10th Annual Dark Sky Festival – Harmony, FL

Last year I had the privilege of writing a short piece about the Dark Sky Festival in Harmony, Florida.  I really enjoyed learning about the town of Harmony and the Festival they host every year so when I was asked again this year I jumped at the opportunity.  This year’s Dark Sky Festival promises to be the most successful yet.

Once again the town of Harmony, Florida is pleased to present to you the 10th annual Dark Sky Festival!  For the last ten years Harmony, a small town southeast of Orlando, has hosted a festival to celebrate the wonder of the Earth’s most beautiful natural resource, the night sky.  On the night of February 2nd, 2013 the public is invited to attend a night of celebration and education focused on learning about the night sky and the benefits of living under a night sky free from the effects of excessive artificial lighting.  The effects of excessive artificial lighting are scientifically proven to have negative effects on human and wildlife health, to damage the nighttime ecosystem, and of course mask the beauty of the starry night sky.

Harmony, Florida was founded in 2003 by Orlando’s former Humane Society/SPCA director Martha Lentz with the goal of creating a community where humans can live in harmony with nature and the environment.  The town was master planned into one of the most unique communities in Florida.  One of the goals of the community is to limit its impact on light pollution to preserve a natural view of the night sky.  Light pollution is the sum of all the wasted artificial light that is shined into the sky as a result of poorly designed lighting fixtures.  This wasted light produces the all too familiar sky glow effect that turns the sky pink near the horizon and washed out overhead.  The effects of light pollution can be limited, and even reversed as residents of Harmony know.  By taking simple and inexpensive steps to ensure all outdoor lighting fixtures are fully-shielded (meaning no light escapes upward from its source) Harmony has created a very aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly lightscape.  Furthermore, the lighting regulations created for Harmony are so impressive that the surrounding county which includes parts of Walt Disney World has adopted them as a lighting ordinance.

Dark Sky #3

The Harmony night sky

This year’s Dark Sky Festival promises to be the most successful one yet.  Over 5,000 people attended the 2012 Festival and again the town expects to see growth in attendance.  Attractions of this year’s Festival include the following:

  • Public stargazing with over 50 telescopes
  • Speakers from NASA, Seminole State College Planetarium, the International Dark Sky Association, and more
  • Two mobile planetariums with presentations and NASA Exhibits
  • Variety of kids activities including Mad Science, demos from high school robotics clubs, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf and the Kids Zone
  • Music, food, specialty booths, and presentations from scientists

This year’s speakers include International Dark Sky Association’s Executive Director Bob Parks and Jon Cowart, Deputy Partner Manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  If you stick around long enough you might even run into some Star Wars characters from the famous 501st Legion!Dark Sky #4

 

 

Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to learn more about astronomy and the dark sky movement as well as a chance to explore the universe first-hand through some incredible telescopes!  Astronomers from around the state have their telescopes set up for free, public viewing.  If you’re completely new to the field of astronomy or a seasoned pro the Dark Sky Festival at Harmony surely has something for everyone.  Make sure you stop by the beautiful town of Harmony on Saturday February 2, 2013 to enjoy this rapidly growing annual celebration of the night sky.  Festivities begin at dusk at 5 pm and continue until 10 pm.

To learn more about the town of Harmony please visit the town’s website www.harmonyfl.com.

Dark Sky Festival Flyer

 

The Street Corner Astronomer

A couple weeks ago I had a very pleasant surprise while visiting my soccer bar in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  I was at Slaínte watching the United State’s first World Cup 2014 qualifier match and upon leaving I saw something I did not expect.  A blue Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a fork mount was set up right on the brick steps of the south end of Broadway Square!  I immediately told my friend and his brother that I’d meet them back at his house to play some FIFA but I absolutely had to check out this display.  The telescope was an 8″ SCT and was owned by a man named Herman Heyn.  Herman is an elderly man who brings his scope out on weekends whenever the weather is clear.  He goes by the name of “Baltimore’s Street Corner Astronomer” and has been setting up his telescopes in Baltimore since 1987!  He is rather well-known among Fells Point regulars and residents by his blue SCT scope with the words “HAV-A-LOOK” printed on the side of the optical tube.  Herman delights in letting people peer into his scope and see sights such as Saturn, Jupiter, the moon, Venus, the Pleiades, and some of the Messier open clusters.  Most of the passerby are intrigued by the telescope having never had the experience before.  While talking with Herman, I watched about ten people look into the scope and they all had the typical wow-factor reaction.  The object of the night’s observation was Saturn and the awestruck visitors were simply delighted to have seen Saturn for the first time in their lives!  However, for every believer there is a doubter.  Several people passing by tried to convince me it was a fake and that we were just looking at a picture of Saturn taped over the aperture.  Those poor people.  They’ve yet to experience the joy of gazing at a beautiful ringed planet almost one billion miles away.

While talking to Herman about our shared interest in astronomy I found out that he’d been interested in the subject since the 8th grade when his science teacher taught an astronomy lesson.  I quickly developed a respect and admiration for Herman and his devotion to spreading the word about astronomy.  His desire to spread his passion to random people is admirable and I wish there were more people like him in our hobby!  After taking a quick peek at Saturn at about 130x I dropped the remaining couple dollars from my wallet into his donations hat and regrettably had to leave.  I spent about 20 minutes talking with Herman and I left very encouraged by the encounter!  I hope to go down to Fells Point again very soon and hopefully HAV-ANOTHER-LOOK!  Check out Herman’s website at hermanheyn.com!

The 9th Annual Dark Sky Festival at Harmony

Are you an amateur or professional astronomer looking for a great star party to attend?  Does the night sky fascinate you or intrigue you?  If you’ve ever wondered what’s out there in the universe then on April 14, 2012 you’ll want to be at the Dark Sky Festival in Harmony, Florida!  For nine years running the town of Harmony, about 40 minutes south of Orlando, has hosted a Dark Sky Festival to promote awareness of preserving the nighttime sky, our most spectacular of natural resources.  Every April the town of Harmony fills with astronomers professional and amateur alike, and tourists who are curious about the night sky.

As humans we are mysteriously drawn to the cosmos as we attempt to find our place in the universe.  It is the story of human experience to ask questions of the heavens and seek to relate to it.  The people in Harmony are passionate about the oldest science known to man, the study of the heavens.  The Dark Sky Festival is Harmony’s annual sharing of their love of astronomy and the night sky with the surrounding area and tourists.  Regularly attracting visitors from the Orlando-Walt Disney World area and the Space Coast to the east, Harmony’s Dark Sky Festival draws about 5,000 visitors each year and they are expecting even more this year!

Events for this year’s festival include science exhibits and demonstrations, NASA speakers and exhibits, a mobile planetarium, live music, food and drinks, glow in the dark mini-golf…and of course, stargazing on “Telescope Hill”.  Also featuring at this year’s festival will be the documentary film “The City Dark” by filmmaker Ian Cheney focusing on light pollution and its effects on our culture, our bodies, and the environment.  I had the privilege of seeing this film in D.C. a couple weeks ago and it is excellent and I would strongly recommend it for anyone interested in astronomy.

This year’s festival will take place on Saturday April 14, 2012 from 6 – 11pm.  The Festival is sponsored by several local astronomy clubs as well as the popular Star Walk app for iPhone and iPad and the International Dark Sky Association.  All events are free to the public.

If you’re wondering what the sky is like in Harmony I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!  For being only 40 minutes from Orlando and Disney World Harmony’s skies are rated as a class 4 on the Bortle Scale of light pollution.  The town of Harmony is master-planned with environmental intelligence as the goal, specifically reducing the town’s impact on light pollution which is caused from wasteful light that escapes from poorly designed light fixtures.  Energy efficiency is also highly valued by town residents as they seek to live responsibly towards nature and the night sky.  Harmony’s lighting standards are so impressive that the entire county eventually adopted them as a new lighting ordinance.  That is quite a feat since Orlando and Walt Disney World are a part of the same county.

If you are or will be in the Orlando area on Saturday April 14th do yourself a favor and visit the Dark Sky Festival in Harmony, FL.  If you’re an astronomer and would like to register to set up your telescope on Telescope Hill visit the astronomers section on the festival’s website.  For more information visit www.darkskyfestival.com.

If you’ve never looked through a telescope before, come to be amazed at the vast richness of beauty that is the night sky!  The 9th annual Dark Sky Festival at Harmony is free to the public and open to people of all ages.  It is a celebration of nature and education of cosmic proportions that will surely inspire and amaze you!

My First Telescope Redux

Saturday was the big day for me.  I was by far more excited about Saturday than the Super Bowl on Sunday (would not be true if my Ravens had been in it…).  On Saturday my dad and I went down to Company Seven, the closest telescope dealer, in Laurel, MD to buy my XT8 telescope.  Since it was my first time buying a scope I wasn’t sure what to expect from the store.  I kind of figured that it would be run by a couple of geeks (which it was) but I did not expect the magnitude of their geekiness to be as high as it was!  That is meant as a compliment to them of course!  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being down there.  The associate I spoke to seemed to know absolutely everything there was to know about Orion telescopes.  I told him I was looking at the SkyQuest XT8 he immediately recommended that I consider the XT10 Intelliscope instead because it comes with one more eyepiece, has the computerized finder, takes in more light, and offers the best probability that I won’t have to upgrade to a better scope for quite a while…all for only an extra $200 or so.  I was glad that he made that recommendation.  Meanwhile he assured me that he never tries to upsell just for the sake of it and making money.  Company Seven is subsidized by the government through NASA and has worked with them in the past on Hubble and various other projects so selling telescopes is not how they make their living.  Their interest is purely in seeing the customer walk out of the store with the best telescope possible that suits his or her astronomy wants and needs or with a better understanding of the market so that their interest in astronomy can last a lifetime.

So I ended up selecting the XT10 Intelliscope over the XT8 SkyQuest based on the associate’s recommendation.  I was very pleased with the purchase, which my dad and I decided to split.  Overall, the total after the various accessories will come to around $1,200.  I just have to wait about a week or two for them to assemble the scope and collimate it and make sure everything is working in perfect order.  They charge an extra $95 to assemble it but that was money well spent in my opinion because there’s no way I want to risk messing something up and not having the scope work properly.  I’m very excited to get my hands on the new scope and can’t wait to take it out on the first clear night!

Company Seven is a great place to buy a telescope!  Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro, they’ve got everything covered from beginner scopes to very expensive eyepieces.  They live and breathe telescopes and astronomy so they really know their stuff.  Just tell them what you want out of a telescope and they can direct you to the perfect one in no time!  I would highly recommend Company Seven for all your astronomical needs.  www.companyseven.com

Company Seven showroom...a telescope Mecca Credit: Company Seven

My First Astrophoto…Sort of

On Sunday night I went outside in my driveway and spent a good while taking in the beauty of the full moon with my binoculars.  It was a perfectly clear night and I had an amazing view of the moon for over an hour!  The only drawback was that it was almost at zenith so my arms and neck needed frequent breaks.  I am not equipped at all for astrophotography but I figured I’d give it a shot.  All I had was my iPhone and its tiny lens so snapping a picture of the moon was not an option through my binoculars because there was simply too much light for my phone to handle.  So I focused my attention to Jupiter which was hanging low in the East sky around midnight.  I am simply in love with the sight of Jupiter’s moons through my 15×70’s so I decided to try it out with my phone.  Unfortunately with binoculars you can never get a complete image because you can only hold the phone up to one of the eyepieces.  Although the size of the planet is reduced and the moons aren’t visible (far too faint for my phone’s camera) I’m relatively please with how it turned out!  Take a look:

My first attempt at astrophotography...a mild success

So there it is!  Obviously if you compare that to any other amateur’s pictures of Jupiter this is the worst, but I’m proud of it nonetheless!  It’s still amazing that something that is 816 million kilometers away and yet we can see it with our naked eyes, and even better with equipment.  So that’s that.  I hope that brought you at least mild enjoyment.  Until next time, remember Psalm 97:6, “The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory

A Brief History of Astronomy

Since basically the dawn of civilized human society, we as a race have been fascinated with the night sky.  There’s no denying its allure and attraction, its gravitas (pun intended).  Humankind has always been attracted by the unknown.  It is the driving force that lead us to leave our homes and explore the world and ask questions of the trees, rocks, and the seas.  We’ve been blessed by our Creator with a sense of inquisitiveness that no other creature on the planet possesses and it was given to us to fulfill the command given to our parents Adam and Eve to subdue the Earth and rule over it.  As our understanding of the world we live on increased from names of animals to geography, to the use of tools, to agriculture, to navigation, and building, we have used our inherent curiosity to explore the world around us and our relation to it, where we fit in.  Nothing baffles us and intrigues us as much as the heavens as we consider this question. All one has to do is look up and you get an immediate sense of how seemingly insignificant you are and you begin to feel very small and out of place, but stuck in wonder all the same.

As a Christian, I believe the Biblical account of creation as initiated by God who exists outside of time and called all things into being by the power of His Word.  The Bible states that God simply spoke to the darkness and light burst forth.  But while that’s all fine and dandy, it hardly satisfies our human desire to know why and how the universe began.  We can conceive the “why”.  Because God commanded it so.  But I want to know how that happened and what that looked like!  That’s what we’ve been trying to do for thousands of years every time we look up into the night sky.  Understanding how creation happened and what exactly occurred during that time should lead us to appreciate and love the God of the universe all the more for the beauty displayed in the heavens and earth and the fact that He cares for us even though we seem so small and insignificant!

One of the earliest known evidences of man’s interest in astronomy and celestial exploration can be seen at Stonehenge in England.  Although it is not entirely clear what the full purpose of the giant stone structure was, there are clear markers to record the Summer Solstice and a rudimentary calendar in place.  Other ancient civilizations such as the Babylonians and the Egyptians also kept record of astronomical events such as solstices, eclipses, and comets.  The ancient Chinese astronomers kept detailed maps of the skies by the seasons and also recorded the appearance of “guest stars” which ranged from comets to nebulae, and supernova.  However, it wasn’t until the time of Pythagoras and Aristotle did astronomy really emerge as a science.  Pythagoras is credited with being one of the first to develop a theory for the mechanics of the solar system, how the planets move about the sky throughout the year.  Aristotle was the first to suggest the theory that the planets moved in concentric circles around the Earth, or orbits.  Aristotle’s orbits were perfectly symmetrical and the order of the planets was mixed but it was a very good start.  Unfortunately for the science, Aristotle’s geocentric theory (perfected by Ptolemy) held for over 1,500 years due to the misguiding of the Catholic Church until Nikolas Kopernig (Copernicus) shook things up with his model of a sun-centered solar system.

From Copernicus on major advancements in astronomy and physics arose in dealing with planetary sizes, masses, distances from the sun and each other.  When Galileo Galilei invented the first telescope a whole new world of astronomy was opened up with the ability to see further out into space than ever before.  Galileo also laid the foundation for discoveries in physics such as laws of motion and gravity that would later in the 17th century be cemented by Sir Isaac Newton.  Newton is arguably the greatest physicist to ever live and left a remarkable legacy in the fields of science and math.  He improved the telescope by using mirrors instead of lenses, invented calculus, and discovered the basic laws of gravity and motion which hold the entire universe together.

Now we in the 21st century are privilege to so much knowledge pioneered by those who went before us.  It is on their shoulders we stand as we seek to further our understanding of the universe around us.  Thanks to those pioneers astronomy is now a widely respected discipline and is readily available for all who would pursue it.  If you’re new to astronomy there are many, many great resources available to help you gain a better understanding of the subject.  All you have to do is Google it and you’ll strike gold!

The Start of Something New

I’ve created this blog as another channel for me to explore my new-found interest in astronomy.  I am now the proud owner of a pair of 15×70 Celestron Sky Master binoculars and I’m lifting the anchor on my maiden voyage of the galaxy.  This blog will relate (as much as possible) my two of my favorite things, astronomy and the Bible.  I am a man of faith and some science.  I am hoping that by studying the night sky I will learn more about science and God.  The two are not enemies like mainstream scientists propose, but rather science points to God and displays His glory in creation.  On this site I will post summaries of my encounters with the night sky and (maybe one day) photos of these encounters, articles from other amateur astronomers, and much, much, more.  If you’re reading this and you have a passion for the splendor of the night sky, feel free to comment on what I’ve posted!  Thanks for reading!

~Tim

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