This is the first of a monthly column regarding astronomy and the night sky. Members of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society (DPAS) will, over future issues, bring readers articles, information, tidbits and updates regarding astronomy and events to watch for in the night sky. We hope you will learn from them, and enjoy them.
DPAS tries to share its knowledge, appreciation, and curiosity of astronomy by providing a variety of public outreach programs. Typically, for instance, once a month we open the Leif Everson Observatory for viewing the night sky through a computer-controlled 14” Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope – a wonderful instrument. Members also bring their personal telescopes and set them up so that visitors can look through a variety of telescopes at different nebulae, planets, comets, and galaxies or clusters. We provide star maps and laser pointers to get folks familiar with identifying constellations and the night sky. Members will be glad to help if you have a telescope that’s been gathering dust and you need some assistance setting it up.
We also hold a monthly meeting on the first Tuesday of each month at the Astronomy Center, on the “campus” of the observatory. Programs offered cover a wide range of topics, from a “short” program to the “main event” and are intended for the layman, with hints for further exploration by the well-versed. This year our short program theme is “Latest News in Astronomy” and we’ve covered updates on the European mission Rosetta that landed on a comet and the NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto. We also have had programs on such topics as solar storms, Saturn’s moon Titan, and in August the prime topic is “Black Widow Pulsars!”
On clear Door County nights, we have a wonderful view of the night sky. Though at the observatory we have a low aura of light pollution, (affectionately dubbed “the Sturgeon Bay Nebula”), we do our best to help create and maintain a dark sky in the county. The DPAS is currently working with a number of organizations to have Newport State Park designated as an International Dark Sky Park. Sturgeon Bay Utilities (SBU) has fitted a few downward focused streetlamps near-by the observatory and Egg Harbor has led the civic way in installing street lamps that light the sidewalks, not the sky.
One might ask, what is the importance of an International Dark Sky Park designation, but also, why are dark skies important to anyone other than astronomers? Well, light pollution – that wasteful and excess light from signs, street lights that shine up rather than down – and all the other sources of random lighting, limit what planets, stars and other deep sky objects we can see. Importantly, light pollution adversely affects wildlife by disrupting their natural rhythm to mating, migration, sleep, and finding food. Beyond the waste of energy and harm to humans and wildlife, being able to get a great view of the night sky invokes a wonder and awe of the universe. We can see thousands of stars and feel we are part of something much, much larger. We wonder if we are alone in the cosmos.
So look us up on the web, doorastronomy.org, and perhaps join us for a meeting or viewing night. But most of all, be sure to look up at our night sky and take a minute to appreciate the magnificent beauty and wonder of the cosmos.
The Door Peninsula Astronomical Society will hold their regular monthly meeting on Aug. 4 at 7 pm. Dr. John J. Beck will present “Black Widow Pulsars.”