Getting starry-eyed about the night sky
July 29, 2006
Park City has its share of celebrity visits but some star parties are about the ones overhead, not those in Hollywood.
The founders of Utah Skies, Don Brown and Anthony Arrigo, have spent the last six years reaching out to the public to educate them about the night sky. From hosting star parties to helping Park City High School organize an astronomy club, Brown and Arrigo actively share their passion with the community.
For Brown his interest was sparked by the Apollo program.
"Exploring that unknown along with Jacques Cousteau there was Neil Armstrong, so I think that was the beginning." he said.
Astronomy has also gives him a sense of connection with history.
"The heavens have been part of our lore for generations. The ancient astronomers were from Mesopotamia, the Arabs and the Greeks of course. We navigated by the stars. It’s a part of our past that we can easily be in touch with if we look skyward," he said.
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After meeting Anthony Arrigo, the two began a partnership to organize their hobby.
"Anthony and I were professional colleagues and found that we had a mutual interest in astronomy. Through our time together observing we decided that we wanted a Web based venue to give us access to tools, references and other astronomy sources," he said.
With that their Web site was born: http://www.utahskies.org .
According to Brown it gets 10 million hits per year, and the Utah Education Network references it on its Web page as a resource for third-grade core curriculum, which requires students to study the movement of the Earth and moon.
Arrigo and Brown often try to introduce astronomy to young people. In addition to presenting at many of the local schools they hold classes to help Boy Scouts fill badge requirements by helping them learn basic observational astronomy and what causes the phases of the moon.
Utah Skies has grown so successful since its inception in 2000 that Brown and Arrigo are considering turning it into a non-profit organization.
"We can only imagine where Utah Skies could be with company funding and their energies of an organization behind it," Brown said.
The next Star Party will be held on Saturday, July 29 at Trailside Park and is co-hosted by the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District at 8:30 p.m. Among other things they will be viewing Jupiter and star clusters.
Facts about light and the night sky
Provided by Utah Skies
Light travels 186,000 miles per second.
It takes 500 seconds for light to travel from the sun to the earth.
The moon always shows the same face to the Earth
The Big Dipper is not a constellation because it is already part of a larger constellation called Ursa Major.
A possible 10th planet has been discovered. The International Astronomical Union will make the final determination about whether or not it is one later next month.
Light pollution: Polluting skies and bodies
The skies many not be the same source of controversy they were in Galileo’s day but Brown and Arrigo still have a bone to pick.
"Here we are, the most advanced civilization to have ever inhabited the planet and yet the average person is just disconnected from the night sky and in most places can barely see it," Arrigo said.
Artificial light continues to be a source of pollution making it more difficult to see the stars at night, Brown said adding this is not only a problem of aesthetics but health too.
He cited a recent article in Prevention Magazine by Catherine Guthrie that explains a possible connection between exposure to artificial light at night and cancer. Brow, summarized the work of Gena Glickman and George Brainard of Jefferson Medical College and Robert Levin of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute by saying that without enough "dark night sleep" a person’s body cannot produce enough melatonin and its resistance to cancer decreases.
Other animals are effected as well.
"Animals need the night as much as they need the day. Some creatures mate during the night, many hunt or forage for food at night," Brown said.
With pollution caused by artificial light some animals do not feed or mate as often as they should, and both activities are crucial for their survival.
Another problem with light pollution, Brown said, is that people are unnecessarily spending more money on utilities.
"If you consider that in some fixtures, upwards of 90 percent of some light is going where it doesn’t need to go," he said.
Brown explained that a great deal of light is lost up into the air from an outdoor fixture. With a 100-watt bulb, 90 watts of power are potentially lost. The analogy he used was spending $.90 on the dollar wastefully.
"It’s just a sign of the times, I guess, light pollution is basically a sign of how rich and how wasteful society has gotten," Arrigo said. "We look for ways to waste money, and waste energy. Everyone has an excuse about why their pool lights are needed but in reality it’s just one more person."
A solution the problem is special dark sky-friendly lights and Arrigo recently went into the business of selling them. His selection can be found online at: http://www.starrynightlights.com .
Arrigo added that it is a common misperception that there are not a lot of attractive options for this special lighting. Without these, he said, Park City residents will loose their views of the sky.
"At the current rate of development skies in Park City will be indistinguishable from skies in Sandy," he said.
He also observed how light pollution from other areas is already affecting the area.
"You will be amazed at how much light from Salt Lake City is pouring into Park City," he said noting how Summit County is still much better than most areas and it is important to protect that.
"The hope is that by making the night sky friendly lighting generally available more people will choose to install it and we’ll have stars in the sky for our children and grandchildren," he said.