A few night ago, a wave of thunderstorms rolled through the region, putting thousands of people in the dark as well blocking numerous roads with trees. While ranging from greatly inconvenient to downright disastrous, it was interesting to see what happened when the lights went off and the clouds briefly parted.

A few night ago, a wave of thunderstorms rolled through the region, putting thousands of people in the dark as well blocking numerous roads with trees. While ranging from greatly inconvenient to downright disastrous, it was interesting to see what happened when the lights went off and the clouds briefly parted.


The stars came out much closer to their fullness.


This is not to say a power outage is a good thing; on the other hand, we may as well make the best of the situation.


Late at night, having awakened in an unusually darkened bedroom, I cast my eyes to a window and saw an abundance of stars. The community where I live is not considered urban, and in fact, we still can see the Milky Way Band on good nights. Some directions in the sky are brighter than others, looking towards concentrations of sky-glow from shopping districts and towns. In fact, here in Wayne County, Pa., a full 100 miles from New York City, one can see a distinct bright glow low in the southeast, in the Big Apple’s direction. Fortunately, the sky is still rural enough to see a great deal, especially in favored pats of the sky.


With the lights off all over town, viewing became much more pleasant. There was not the distraction of light from street lamps reflecting off the trees. Neighbors’ yard lights were off. There was still a glow towards the mall, showing that not all the county had been affected as much by the thunderstorm’s fury.


High humidity in the air, from the heavy rain that accompanied the storm hours before, took away some of the brilliance of the stars. A truly fine night includes one that is without a moon, away from town or city lights, is very clear and of low humidity. Persons perched high in the mountains are generally favored, as are residents of the dry American Southwest, away from cities.


While the sky may not always be ideal, we can be very thankful if we can relish even a handful of brighter stars. Even from a city center, you can enjoy the moon and the brightest of planets and stars. Usually you will see the most stars high up in the sky. Most of the glow is along the horizon where there is the most haze.


To get the most out of your experience, where ever you live, you need to have your eyes well adjusted to the dark. If you go out straight from a well-lit house, the sky at first seems very dark, and the brightest of stars stand out sharp in contrast. After several minutes, you will note that more and more fainter stars appear, and the dark background is not necessarily so dark, if you have some degree of light pollution (as most of us do).


When peering through a telescope, you will want to block stray light. Most people just cover their other eye with a hand. For prolonged viewing, however, your eyes should be relaxed to be able to see the most detail in the star cluster, planet, moon or whatever you are examining. You can wear an eye patch and risk looking like a pirate, or wrap a scarf over part of your face. Don’t worry too much about making a fashion statement under the stars - no one can see you in the dark, anyway!


Looking at a faint object in the telescope eyepiece, such as a dim nebula or cloud, or to pick out the dimmest stars, it helps to move your eye about and get a side-glance. The periphery of your vision is most sensitive to light.


If the moon is out and you’d like to look at the moon and stars, look at the stars first. Once you look at the moon in your telescope (or binoculars), the  brightened moonlight will take away any hint of night vision. There’s an aid for this, too; lunar filters may be purchased, which act like “sunglasses” screwed onto the back of the eyepiece.


It’s hard to avoid light pollution, but whatever we can do can help. As your neighbors get to know about your hobby, and you show them the constellations or let them look through the telescope, they might remember to turn off that annoying yard or porch light more often. Everyone has the sky in common; even better than small talk about the weather, the starry sky can be a good starting point in conversations.


First-quarter moon is on June 8; enjoy the crescent moon up till then!


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Keep looking up!