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Thursday, 18 March 2010


About once a week as skies permit, Beth and I like to drive out after dark to a remote location to look at the stars.

Our efforts at stargazing in London were circumscribed by light pollution, which is about as bad in London as it can get. Add to that the high horizon due to tall buildings, and you get a chance at maybe 90 degrees of clear sky to gaze at.

In Eugene things are a bit different. Even on the outskirts of the city (e.g. where our new house is located) there are nearly 180 degree horizons, with skyglow from city lights polluting about 20 degrees all around, so you can see stars in about a 140 degree arc.

The picture above is a little small, so I recommend you look at for a better image. On the US west coast there are two strips of light, one along the coast, the other running the length of the I5. Eugene sits right on the I5, but our house is a few miles west, and even that small difference reduces the light pollution considerably. Then compare the US west of the Rockies to the Eastern half, and you'll see how much less light there is.

Round the Sweetwater neighbourhood there are no standing streetlights. Light after dark is provided solely by the houses, with outside lights either side of most garages. This may be a ploy by the city to save money on lighting, but for our purposes it brings the local light pollution down to a tolerable level.

Last night there was a cloudless sky, so we took a drive to a dark neighbourhood and spent ten minutes gazing at the stars. We're both out of practise and can only recognise a handful of constellations at present, but we did enjoy a few shooting stars, and the glow of the Milky Way was visible. We're looking forward to summer nights lying on a blanket in the back yard and gazing at the stars, while listening to the frog chorus.

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