From the Meeting House Deck: An Astronomer’s View

By Alan French

Lan­dis’ dark skies draw ama­teur astronomers and guests to star par­ties for tele­scop­ic views of celes­tial sights. The Meet­ing House deck pro­vides a fine van­tage point, even to the naked eye. It has a great view over the Schoharie Val­ley to the east and south­east, per­fect for watch­ing sun and moon rises.

Stargaz­ers embrace moon­less nights as dark skies reveal the stars in all their glo­ry. Learn­ing the sky is fun and has nev­er been eas­i­er. Plan­e­tar­i­um apps show­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing the stars, aster­isms, and con­stel­la­tions, are wide­ly avail­able and inex­pen­sive. (Casu­al sky watch­ers don’t need the bells and whis­tles of the expen­sive versions.) 

I look to the east­ern sky as a pre­view of com­ing attrac­tions. The stars now in the east just after dark­ness falls will be high in the sky in two months. 

Com­ing heav­en­ly events include:

  • In late March, look for Leo, the Lion, in the east just after dusk. A back­wards ques­tion mark of stars out­lines his head, with bright Reg­u­lus at the bot­tom. A tri­an­gle of stars to the low­er left marks his hind quarters. 
  • Jupiter will dom­i­nate the spring skies. The April 10th moon, approach­ing full, will rise at 7:05 PM a lit­tle south of due east. Bril­liant Jupiter will be just two degrees to its right – a love­ly pairing.
  • On April 11, the moon, just past full, will rise at 8:05 PM, and Jupiter will be 14 degrees away. In late April, look for bril­liant and unmis­tak­able Jupiter with red­dish Arc­turus well to its left. Arc­turus is the bright­est star in Boötes, the Herds­man, and stars stretch­ing left out­line a kite. By late May, Boötes will be high in the east. Look for Coro­na Bore­alis, the North­ern Crown, and the but­ter­fly shape of Her­cules, the Son of Zeus, below and to its left. Watch far­ther to the north for bright Vega, the bright­est star of the Sum­mer Tri­an­gle, to clear the trees. 
  • A mod­est mete­or show, the Lyrids, will be vis­i­ble from April 16 through the 25th. The peak will be on the night of April 22 through the morn­ing of April 23, with the best show from 1 AM until dawn. At its peak, the show­er pro­duces about 20 mete­ors an hour. 
  • Dur­ing the May 26 and 27 star par­ties, Jupiter will be due south at its high­est. A tele­scope reveals dark bands in its atmos­phere and oth­er details, as well as its four bright Galilean moons. By June 9, the full moon will be rise in the east-south­east at 8:34 PM, with Sat­urn just 2.5 degrees to its low­er right. 
  • Night rock­et launch­es from Wal­lops Island, Vir­ginia, can some­times be seen. At the end of our Sep­tem­ber 6, 2013 star par­ty we stood on the Meet­ing House deck and watched the flight of the LADEE lunar mis­sion atop a Mino­taur rock­et. First glimpse of the rock­et was through the pines to the south, then it emerged into full view, mov­ing east­ward low on the hori­zon. Its rock­et plume appeared very orange, and we watched until it moved into a bank of clouds. A great way to end our star party! 

There’s more to nights at Lan­dis than the sky. The calls of owls, usu­al­ly the Who cooks for you?” of the barred owl, often break the still­ness of the night, as do the cries of coy­otes. So even at night, Lan­dis is a love­ly place to enjoy the beau­ty of nature, away from the noise and rush of mod­ern life.

Spring 2017

Volume 35 , Number 2

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