Thursday, March 25, 2010

What can you do during Earth Hour?

Northern Horizon on Saturday March 27 at 8:30 pm local daylight saving time in Australia (click to embiggen).

At 8:30 pm on Saturday 27 March thousands of people will turn their lights and other electrical equipment off for Earth Hour. What can you do in the dark? Well, you know my answer to that … go out and look at the sky! If you have an old telescope lying about, or a pair of binoculars, go grab them and dust them off. Why not hold an Earth Hour Star Party?

For us urbanites and suburbanites the sky won’t get particularly dark during Earth Hour, partly because essential lighting will stay on and partially because the Moon is nearly ¾’s full. However the sky will still be great to see.

To the north, the waxing moon is just above Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the Lion (see above image). The Moon is always fantastic in binoculars or a telescope; indeed, you may spend all of Earth Hour moon gazing if you are not careful.

To the east of that the next brightest object is Saturn; you may need to wait a bit for Saturn to be higher in the sky before using a telescope on it. To the west is bright red Mars (sadly a small featureless disk in most small telescopes at the moment) and the stars Castor and Pollux of Gemini. Mars, Regulus and Saturn make a long line in the sky. The brightest star in the Sky, Sirius, and bright Procyon below it also form a long line with Mars.

The North-western sky at 8:30 pm local daylight saving time (click to embiggen)

To the West, Orion the Hunter and his belt (the saucepan to us Aussies, young men dancing to the Boorong people) can be seen clearly, below that is the V-shaped group of stars that make up the head of Taurus the Bull wit the baleful red star Aldebaran as its eye. If you are lucky to have a clear, level horizon you can see the Pleiades Cluster twinkling above the horizon.

To the South, you can see the pointers showing the way to the Southern Cross. Above the Cross is the rambling constellation of Carina, the keel of the mythical ship Argos. There are lots of small beautiful clusters in the sky here. With the Moon so bright, they will not be prominent, but sweeping around with binoculars will find many delightful groups of stars. You may even find the Tarantula Nebula!

The Southern sky at 8:30 pm local daylight saving time (click to embiggen)

Sadly, there are no passes of the International Space Station or Iridium flares during Earth Hour, but look carefully and you might see some dimmer satellites tumbling past, or maybe even a meteor!

In no time at all the lights will come on., and you will not have finished exploring the skies.


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