An optimistic outlook on the encroaching darkness

I have always been a Summer person. It’s not that I like it when it’s hot; give me a freezing cold day over a 100F day any day of the year. And I really do like snow, especially the potential it has to ruin the best made plans of men. Snow day, anyone? I appreciate the beauty of Autumn, the color of the leaves and the crisp air. Autumn also has Halloween, which is my favorite holiday and the one I’m by far the most nostalgic over. But yet Summer is my favorite season, solely because Summer is when it’s most light outside.

It’s not that I don’t like night; in fact, my conscious mind seems to enjoy darkness. But my subconscious, basal mind does not. I’m simply happier during the Summer, what with those long hours of daylight, for reasons entirely out of my control. Yes, Summer doesn’t have Halloween, and it certainly lacks snow, but I’d be lying if I tried to claim that Summer wasn’t my favorite season because summer is simply when I am at my happiest. Those of you who know a bit about the seasons will be saying, but wait, June 21 is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and it marks the changeover from Spring to Summer. So why pick Summer over Spring when both have, overall, days of the same length? The answer is simple: Daylight Saving Time. I’m never up that early in the morning anyway, so the hour of sunlight taken away in the morning and tacked on at the end of the day is very noticeable in the Summer when I happen to be outdoors more often at night than in the Spring.

So it should make sense why I view the encroaching darkness of Autumn and Winter with a certain feeling of apprehension. I simply do not relish those shorter days. It’s already starting to get dark as I’m driving home from work and I hate it. But I have found one aspect of longer nights to be optimistic, even joyous, about. Longer nights mean more hours for astronomy observations and better chances of being able to see night sky objects of interest.

My dad recently dug up his old 8×30 binoculars. Using the free software program Stellarium, I’ve found some objects in the night sky that I wanted to look at. At my location this week, Jupiter and Antares are visible just after sunset low over the horizon to the south. I’ve been trying to spot the Jovian satellites with the binoculars (a tricky feat in light polluted suburb conditions, made even harder by the small aperture diameter of the binoculars), but have had no luck as of yet. The Sun is staying in the sky too long, drowning out the sky too much with its light to allow me to see what I want to see before they get lost behind trees and houses, the suburban obstacles on the near horizon.

If this were Winter already, the Sun would be setting much earlier, and I’d easily be able to see Jupiter in completely dark conditions, as well as many other interesting objects that set early in the evening. This is pretty much the only thing I have to be happy about with a shortening day. I’ve been setting my sights on a telescope that I want to get soon, a nice 6″ Dobsonian. It will let me see far better than these dinky 8×30 binoculars. As the Sun continues setting earlier and earlier, I will buy that telescope, and temper the anguish over vanishing daylight by turning my attention upwards, towards the darkening heavens.

5 Responses to “An optimistic outlook on the encroaching darkness”

  1. Darmok Says:

    I’ve been able to see Ganymede through my binoculars, but none of the others.

    Incidentally, I know that summer begins on the solstice by some definitions—but that astronomical definition doesn’t seem to correlate that well to U.S. weather patterns. As far as I’m concerned, summer consists of the months of June, July, and August, which also makes it the season with the most daylight.

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    What are the specs on your binoculars? I talked with an astronomy geek who has 8×32 binoculars (very similar to mine) and he says that the Jovian satellites aren’t visible with such binoculars under even nearly ideal conditions. A 30 or 32 mm aperture simply doesn’t have enough light-gathering ability to see fainter objects. Though, remember that light-gathering ability is a function of the square of the aperture diameter, so 60mm aperture would have four times the light-gathering ability of a 30mm. I was pricing out huge binoculars (they go up to 20×120, believe it or not), but in the end, it makes far more sense just to get a decent 6″ telescope.

  3. Darmok Says:

    My binoculars say “10×50WA” though to be honest I don’t know exactly what that means. I was reasonably sure it was Ganymede because after studying that view for a bit, I came inside and simulated the real-time view on my computer, and it matched up precisely—including a nearby faint star that I initially had thought to be a Jovian satellite too.

  4. Cyde Weys Says:

    The first number is the magnification power as a multiple and the second number is the diameter of the objective lenses in millimeters. I haven’t heard of “WA” before, but I assume it means wide angle. 50mm should be big enough to see Jovian satellites. 30mm simply isn’t.

  5. Will (green) Says:

    I think I have some 8-24x42s sitting around…