Saturday, June 28, 2014

July 2014 Constellation of the Month – The Summer Triangle

Our July 2014 Constellation of the Month is not one of the official 88 constellations, but it is nonetheless a prominent and memorable shape made by stars.  The Summer Triangle is comprised of the brightest stars of 3 constellations.  You can't miss them; they are the brightest stars in the East an hour or two after sunset, about midway between the eastern horizon and overhead.

The brightest of the 3 stars – Vega, in the constellation of Lyra (the Harp) – is the easternmost one.   To the west and north is Deneb, in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan, also known as the Northern Cross).  To the west and south of Vega is Altair in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. 

The Summer Triangle is a good non-constellation star pattern ("asterism") to get to know.  (Asterisms can also be well-known parts of constellations, e.g.,  the Big Dipper is a part of the constellation Ursa Major).   The Summer Triangle is visible about half the year, and it can be useful as a starting point for finding other constellations -- as we'll describe in coming months.

Vega is an important star, because it was used to define the zero point in the scale used to specify the apparent brightness of stars – the magnitude.  I say "apparent" brightness, because it describes how bright a star appears to us on earth.  A very bright star (one with a large "absolute" brightness) which is very far away can appear to us as less bright than a star of average brightness which is much closer to earth.  "Close" in astronomical terms, could be 50  trillion miles away.

So, Vega was defined as having a magnitude of 0.  And the brightness of other stars was measured in relation to that.  In order to avoid very large numbers, the magnitude scale is logarithmic, like the Richter scale for earthquake intensity.  A magnitude 1 star is 2.5 times as bright as a magnitude 0 star.  And a magnitude 2 star is 2.5 times fainter than that.  So a magnitude 2 star is 2.5 x 2.5 (6.25) times fainter than a magnitude 0 star. 

Stars brighter than 1.5 magnitude are called 1st magnitude, from 1.5 – 2.5 are 2nd magnitude and so on.  The naked eye in Ridgefield can probably see no fainter  than 4th magnitude, due to light pollution. The other two stars in the Summer Triangle – Altair and Deneb – are magnitudes 0.77 and 1.2, respectively.  So they are also 1st magnitude stars.  By way of comparison, the stars in the Big Dipper are magnitude 2 stars. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Be Prepared!

Sturges Park came alive with 14 third and fourth grade Club Scouts as they learned how to "Be Prepared" in the outdoors.  Part of their training involved learning the 10 essential items to pack for a day hike, why "cotton is rotten", and how synthetics and wool are better, especially when worn in layers.  After decorating hiking sticks, they went off on an adventure in the woodlands.  Learning trail blazes was secondary to being prepared for anything that might be lurking among the trees.  Maybe a bear or wolf would jump out at any moment!  They were all in agreement that their new hiking stick could be used as a defensive weapon and not just a helpful balancing tool.  Disappointingly, only two toads and a very large snail were sighted.  They went on to learn the “Rule of Threes for Survival” which is in any extreme situation one cannot survive 3 minutes without air; 3 hours without shelter; 3 days without water; 3 weeks without food.   The two dens then went on to experiment in constructing debris huts using only the natural materials they could find.  They discovered that smaller shelters were warmer and quicker to build. They decided that this is an important survival technique in case one is lost or caught in bad weather. No outdoor training session would be complete without proper campfire building and safety lessons, which culminated in feasting on hot dogs cooked on a stick.    Somehow it just seems they taste so much better this way.     By the end of the session, everyone concluded that thanks to the volunteers at the Discovery Center, they were better prepared for the great outdoors.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Today is the “Longest” day of the year - the Summer Solstice. Called a variation of Midsummer by most northern cultures, this marks a day of great celebration. When man determined time by the sun and moon, midsummer was the middle of the growing season. Most celebrations took on a joyous quality. At Midsummer food was easier to find, herbs could be gathered and crops had been planted in anticipation of a bountiful harvest. It was considered by some cultures a good time to wed as it fell between the intense work of planting and harvesting of crops. The “downtime” could be spent in preparation and celebrations. In China it was a time of balance. Midsummer celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.

Now with modern technology driving our lives, it is barely noticed. However, the natural world will be resetting its internal clocks to reflect the eventual slide toward the cold season. Now is the time for second clutches of eggs or litters and for the young to start their intense survival training. Sunlight drives the natural rhythm of plants. The work of photosynthesis has reached its peak and now food production will decline. With the gradual decrease in sunlight some plants will start setting buds for the next growing season. We owe this all to the 23.5ยบ tilt of Mother Earth. It causes sunlight to be unevenly distributed over our planet’s surface as it orbits around the sun. This creates the seasons – the main driver behind the Rhythm of Life. (Originally posted 6-20-12)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Come join the DC Women's Hiking Group for our last week of hiking before the summer break!

We will hike Tues., June 17th at Pootatuck State Forest in New Fairfield, CT.

Take 84 East to Exit 5  merge onto Downs St. which turns into North St. Continue onto CT 37N (Padanram Rd) which turns into CT 37N (Pembroke Rd). About 2 miles past the interesection for 37 and 39, make a slight right onto Pine Hill Rd. Continue for about 2 miles. Pheasant Dr. will be on the right.  Take the next road on the right.  It will be right before mailbox #169.
Parking lot is at end of the road at trailhead.
Please bring a picnic lunch for after the hike.


Please note:  Meet at 8:45am for this hike.
We will hike Thurs., June 19th at Seth Low Pierrepont State Park.
Entrance and parking is off Barlow Mountain Rd. across from Scotland and Barlow Mountain Elementary Schools.
Meet at 8:30am.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

June 2014 Constellation of the Month -- Draco

Draco, "the Dragon," is a sinuous constellation that winds its way among the circumpolar constellations.   

Face north and look high in the sky.  Find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), our March 2013 Constellation of the Month.  The open part of the bowl of the Big Dipper faces the smaller bowl of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor).  The tail of Draco is about halfway in between.  Draco is comprised relatively faint stars – more of the brightness of the stars of the Little Dipper than those of the Big Dipper.

Follow the tail south, in the direction of Hercules, our July 2013.  Then, Draco curves north in an arc around the Little Dipper, heading toward Cepheus our October 2013 constellation.  Then, Draco curves south again and ends with a "head" formed by a quadrilateral of stars near Hercules.   

The head is east of Vega, the very bright star in the constellation Lyra, our August 2013 constellation.  The 4 stars in the head are among the brightest in the constellation.  That, and its compact size, makes the head relatively easy to find.  So, you may want to start there, if you're having trouble finding the tail.

Draco is home to the Cat's Eye Nebula, NGC 6643.  This is a Planetary Nebula, which is the remnant of an exploded star.  A Hubble Telescope photo shows a complex interplay of shapes structure, within the roughly spherical shape of the nebula. 
(picture credit Wikipedia)

Monday, June 2, 2014

The DC Women's Hiking Group will hike this week, Jun. 3rd and Jun. 5th at Tarrywille Park in Danbury.

From I-84 take the airport exit.
At end of ramp turn right.
Follow through traffic lights and at stop sign turn onto Southern Blvd. ( It will be a sharp right turn).
Follow small brown signs for Tarrywile Park.
The park will be on the right, across from Immaculate H.S.
Meet in lower parking lot at 8:30am.