Stargazers: Earth Hour starts Saturday at 8:30 pm

Cities around the world dim their lights each year for Earth Hour--the better to see the stars. Photo: Christian Haugen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Cities around the world dim their lights each year for Earth Hour–the better to see the stars. Photo: Christian Haugen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Love it or hate it, it’s back. Earth Hour will be marked by many around the globe tonight from 8:30 – 9:30 pm, local time.

This hour of action represents a magnificent rallying point, silly symbolism, or something in between, depending on your own point of view. A side-effect of going dark is how well that makes light pollution more apparent. And with so many lights switched off, it’s a good opportunity for armchair astronomy.

Here’s an experiment from National Geographic to measure light pollution by working off the Big Dipper and the North Star – can you see the stars that make up the Little Dipper?

If you live within reach of Ottawa, the Science and Tech Museum offers periodic stargazing for the public, including a session that starts at 8 pm tonight:

Stargazers of all ages enjoy an evening of astronomy at the Museum’s Helen Sawyer Hogg Observatory. Weather permitting, visitors can look through the historic 15-inch telescope at the stars, the planets, and the Moon.

It’s free but donations are appreciated. If that’s your cup of tea, once things warm up a bit more, the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society holds public stargazing events from May – Oct.

This is moving further and further afar from Earth Hour, but I also came across an obituary for John Dobson, who did much to popularize star gazing. As written up for the New York Times by Douglas Martin (1/21/14):

Mr. Dobson, who died last Wednesday at 98 — or, as he might have put it, 123 days into his 99th orbit around the sun — is credited with developing the first high-powered portable telescope that amateur astronomers could build inexpensively, and tens of thousands have done so. Dobsonian telescopes, as they are known generically, are still a popular item on the market, though Mr. Dobson chose not to benefit from them commercially.

It’s nice to recognize that sort of selflessness.

(Saturday morning postscript, 10 am) 

Here is more on why admirers praise the Dobson telescope, or how to build your own.

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