Monday, October 22, 2012

Orionid Meteor Shower

Ever wanted to see lots of shooting stars?  Tonight's a good night for that, if the weather's clear:  This weekend marks the peak of the Orionid meteor shower.  Every year about mid-October, the Earth's orbit takes it through the trail left behind by Halley's comet.  The debris contained within the trail is much too small to be dangerous, but numerous enough to give us a good show as it enters the Earth's atmosphere.  Depending on viewing conditions in your area, you can expect to see a meteor every few minutes or so. 

Tonight's not the only night for this meteor show, but after tonight the frequency of shooting stars will once again taper off, with the Orionid meteor shower ending around the 7th.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Light Pollution: The Eater of Stars

Quick, when was the last time you saw the Milky Way?  Unless you've been to a rural area recently, odds are good you can't remember the last time you saw the Milky Way. 

Why?  Light pollution.  Street lights do more than keep your street lit, they also light up the sky.  While most people don't care if the sky gets lit up, astronomers do.  The brighter the sky, the harder it is to see the stars. 

A study done by Kurt W. Reigel back in the 70s sheds light on the problem.  According to Dr. Reigel, light pollution is a serious problem, already making several observatories unusable for "competitive research".  Denver's Chamberlin Observatory is a good example of this, as it is now little more than a historic building.

The study proposes that we could do away with much of this pollution.  Outdoor lighting has two main purpose according to Dr. Reigel: Illumination for automobiles and crime deterrent.  The first of these purposes could be removed by designing better automobile headlights.  Dr. Reigel's study suggests that increasing the output of car headlights by a factor of 20 would eliminate the need for streetlights to illluminate roads for cars. 

The second reason for outdoor lighting is crime deterrent.  Dr. Reigel claims that this use of lighting is ineffective.  Worse, he claims that this lighting may have a detrimental effect: crime rates are higher in brightly lit areas.  While lighting may not be the cause of these higher crime rates, the study notes another interesting phenomenon: most residential crime occurs during the day, when residents are away.