astronomy

A Heavenly Trio

By Jim Haklar

I took this picture on February 20th from the back of the Edison Environmental Center. The Moon was near Venus (the bright “star” to the Moon’s left) and Mars (just above Venus). Think about the range of distances represented in this picture:

The trees were about 0.04 mile away;

The Moon was about 240,000 miles away;

Venus was 130 million miles away; and

Mars was 205 million miles away.

It’s sobering when you consider the scale of the solar system.

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his nearly 30 years with the agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Light Pollution and Amateur Astronomy

This picture of the Sun was taken on September 26, 2014 from the Edison Environmental Center.

This picture of the Sun was taken on September 26, 2014 from the Edison Environmental Center.

By Jim Haklar

One of my hobbies is astronomy, and for me there is nothing more relaxing than looking up at a sky full of stars. However, light pollution has made it increasingly difficult for people to enjoy the wonders of the night sky. Light pollution represents energy that’s being wasted. Think of an older style “bulb” type streetlamp (where the bulb hangs upside-down from a pole). A portion of the light coming from the bulb lights the street below, but some of the light travels upward and contributes to the nighttime glow. While there are communities that require the use of special “directed” lighting, we have a long way to go before we’ll be able to see the Milky Way from lower Manhattan.

Amateur astronomers have several options for dealing with light pollution. They can use special filters that block the wavelengths of light emitted by nighttime lighting. However, those filters also block some of the light emitted by stars or galaxies and that can be a problem when viewing or taking photos of these objects.

Another option is to drive to a location where the light pollution is minimal. For someone living in the New York City area, this may mean driving for several hours. You also have to consider whether the location you’re observing from is safe. There have been times when I’ve been startled by a nocturnal animal who wandered too close to my equipment. While I don’t mind a deer joining me for an evening of observing, I definitely would have problems spending my quality time with a skunk!

One other alternative is solar astronomy. By using a properly filtered telescope to look at the Sun during the day, light pollution is never an issue. And the Sun’s surface changes from day to day. I can also get to bed at a reasonable hour (and avoid my smelly nighttime companions).

In spite of the light pollution I still believe that astronomy is a worthwhile hobby. No matter where you live, be it the city, suburbs or a rural area, there will always be something to see in the sky. Just look up.

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his nearly 30 years with the Agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spying on the Lunar Landscape

By Jim Haklar

Here’s an image of the moon’s crater, Tycho, that I took in March of this year (Tycho is the bright crater in the center of the picture).  Tycho is about 50 miles in diameter and it is very young – only around 108 million years old!  There are other craters on the moon that are almost 4 billion years old, so Tycho is a mere baby compared to those senior citizens of the lunar landscape.  Tycho was formed as a result of another celestial body hitting the moon at that spot, and with binoculars you can see “rays” of bright material that has been thrown far away from the impact site.

Tycho has a role in the science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, since it is the location where modern humans find an alien machine (or “monolith”) buried in the crater.

I’ve always been interested in the night sky, and I can remember receiving my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old.  While my interest in astronomy increased in high school, I only started getting seriously into astrophotography – a hobby that combines astronomy and photography – about 10 years ago.  Since then I’ve taken pictures of the sun, moon, planets and “deep sky” objects, all of which I would like to share with you.  The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Jet by the Light of the Moon

A plane taking off from Newark Airport.

By Jim Haklar

I have to start off by saying that this is a real, not composite, image. The plane actually flew in front of the moon. It was taken almost three years ago on a sticky summer night at the Edison Environmental Center, EPA’s laboratory facilities in Edison, New Jersey. I didn’t intend to catch a plane flying in front of the moon, but as I was focusing my telescope one plane flew by and I missed the shot. Since the Environmental Center is near the flight path of Newark Liberty Airport, one of the busiest airports in the United States, all I had to do was wait a few minutes for another plane to go by. The only problem I had was fighting off the mosquitoes!

I’ve always been interested in the night sky and I received my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old. My interest in astronomy increased in high school, but I only started getting seriously into astrophotography – a hobby that combines astronomy and photography – about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve taken pictures of the sun, moon, planets and “deep sky” objects. The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Spying on the Lunar Landscape

By Jim Haklar

Here’s an image of the moon’s crater, Tycho, that I took in March of this year (Tycho is the bright crater in the center of the picture). Tycho is about 50 miles in diameter and it is very young – only around 108 million years old! There are other craters on the moon that are almost 4 billion years old, so Tycho is a mere baby compared to those senior citizens of the lunar landscape. Tycho was formed as a result of another celestial body hitting the moon at that spot, and with binoculars you can see “rays” of bright material that has been thrown far away from the impact site.

Tycho has a role in the science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, since it is the location where modern humans find an alien machine (or “monolith”) buried in the crater.

I’ve always been interested in the night sky, and I can remember receiving my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old. While my interest in astronomy increased in high school, I only started getting seriously into astrophotography – a hobby that combines astronomy and photography – about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve taken pictures of the sun, moon, planets and “deep sky” objects, all of which I would like to share with you. The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

About the author: Jim is an environmental engineer in EPA’s Edison Environmental Center, currently working in the PCB program. Since 1985 he has worked in a number of different programs including water permits and compliance, Superfund, and public affairs.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Earthrise – The Picture That Inspired the Environmental Movement

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

I’ve never been terribly interested in space exploration. Though I do remember pictures Earth–our “big blue marble”–from my earliest childhood, I’ve been tempted to think on occasion, “What a waste of money. We have so many problems on Earth to solve.” What I didn’t realize was how those images have inspired me to think of the world as a global community.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn how the first picture of Earth taken from space inspired the environmental movement. I learned the connection while searching for a way to link Astronomy with EPA research for our Year of Science Web site.

The Apollo 8 astronauts were the first to go to far side of the Moon. They had prepared for every scenario except one: the awesome sight of Earth rising on a black lunar horizon. Discovering the scene from their space capsule, one astronaut exclaimed, “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.” The crew scrambled for a camera. The photographs appeared for the first time in print just over 40 years ago, in January 1969.

photo of a half-earth rising in a black sky over the lunar horizon

The picture became known as “Earthrise” and the image of the world from the perspective of a desolate lunar surface became an iconic reminder of our need to protect the Earth’s fragile resources. Earthrise and images like it are widely credited with inspiring the environmental movement and indirectly the start of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. In Life’s 100 Photographs that Changed the World, wilderness photographer Galen Rowell called it “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”
Earth seems so big and indestructible from our perspective, and so tiny and vulnerable when seen from space.

Learning this piece of history has given me new respect for the interconnectedness between different branches of science. My first impression was that Astronomy and Earth Science had  nothing in common. Working for EPA’s Office of Research and Development has helped me realize that satellite imaging and data collection play a large role in helping inform scientists in environmental protection and human health. Environmental monitoring once done largely in isolation is now inspiring international cooperation, such as the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS.

It’s inspiring to see that 40 years after the Earthrise photo was taken, science is helping us become a global community.

About the Author: Moira McGuinness joined the Science Communications Staff of EPA’s Office of Research and Development in February 2009. She manages the content on EPA’s Year of Science Web site.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Year of Science-Question of the Month

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

For each month in 2009, the Year of Science—we will pose a question related to science. Please let us know your thoughts as comments, and feel free to respond to earlier comments, or post new ideas.

The Year of Science theme for July is “Celebrate Astronomy“.

Just over 40 years ago the image known as Earthrise was published. It was the first photograph taken of Earth from Deep Space.

How does seeing a photograph of Earth taken from Space change your thinking about the environment?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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