Summer is dawning, Jupiter and Saturn will begin to rise earlier in the warm Philadelphia sky.
Brendan and I are getting ready to pursue their life dream! From May to August, we pack a telescope on the back of a bicycle, and ride more than 2,000 miles from Rome to Copenhagen.
Why do we want to do this? We both moved to Philadelphia so that we could give up our cars and use our bikes to get around. I've always wanted to see Europe by bicycle, and now is the perfect time to also pursue our passion for astronomy. We want to show how the night sky can connect people all over the world.
Where will we go? Rome to Copenhagen! Check out our Itinerary at this link!
What will we do? The same thing we do every night Pinky! Set up telescopes in public places to reconnect light polluted cities to the night sky. Along the way, we will visit places that are important to the history of astronomy, and take a look at some truly ancient telescopes!
Will you be back? Yes, of course! The Philly Moon Men want to bring all of our energy back to Philadelphia's science scene. We have a special connection to this city, and we want to continue it. In fact, you can look forward to some volunteer Moon People setting up telescopes around the city over the Summer!
Time to go on vacation and check out some truly dark night skies! This week, the MoonMen visited Boulder Colorado. Check out our Thriftscope with the Flatirons in the background!
Sunday morning in the canyon of Nederland, I visited a local resident who repairs Meade Telescopes. Mark invited me into his home and showed me every piece of equipment in his inventory, piece by piece. We saw every version of the Meade ETX Series from 1980 to present, as well as an impressive collection of eyepieces!
We shared advice and reflected on our experiences of sharing astronomy with others. We're excited to work with Mark to import some of his equipment from CO to PA!
But what I really needed was a clear night to show Boulder the early crescent moon. Monday looked like the perfect chance, so I brought the Thriftscope up to the Pearl Street Mall. Pearl street is a lot like South Street, similar crowds of all kinds of people, and a mist of light pollution brings the focus away from the sky and onto the endless shopping, eating, and drinking.
In spite of the streetlights, the cosmos had something truly special to show off tonight. The moon isn't so bright during an early crescent, which means you can see dimmer features than usual. Everyone knows the phase of the moon is caused by reflected sunshine, but the moon also gives us Earthshine! That's when light reflects off of the Earth, off the moon, and then back to Earth! You can actually see the dark side of the moon!
So how did the Philly Moon Men do in Colorado? I collected signatures in my notebook to show everybody that the night sky unites us all. A lot of people were from all over the country!
187 names total. Or, one person a minute for three hours straight. Now that's a lot of astronomy.
The moon is an average of 235,000 miles away from the Earth. All orbits are shaped like ovals, which means that sometimes the moon is closer (as close as 221,681 miles) or further away (as far as 252,622 miles). When you hear people talk about a "supermoon", they mean that the moon is at its closest point in its orbit. How much bigger is a supermoon? Well, sorry to disappoint, but a supermoon is only about 7% larger than a normal moon. You might not even notice.
The Moon Men know how to make the moon a lot bigger than that. Our telescope can magnify the the sky up to 120X! Up this close, you will notice that the moon drifts out of the telescope's view very quickly! That's because the Earth is spinning. When this happens, it feels as if you are flying above the mountains on the moon, gently gliding as if you are in an airplane... The picture below is representative of what we can actually show you!
So when the Moon Men stop people on the street, sometimes they will tell us "I can already see the moon from here." I can understand why, from South Street, the moon might not look that interesting. Like all things in nature, we're just trying to show what you can see when you look a little closer.
Aboard the Apollo 14 Mission to the Moon, Astronaut Stu Roosa carried hundreds of seeds from trees on Earth. At one point during the mission, these seeds were exposed the air-less vacuum of space. Stu returned these seeds to Earth, and they were planted at many famous sites around the globe, to symbolize the peaceful missions of people in space.
One of these seeds was planted at Washington Square Park, in 1976 to celebrate the founding of the United States 200 years ago on that day. Today, the moon men sought out that tree.
Life is incredibly resilient and adaptable. In 2007, NASA found micro-organisms living on the outside of the International Space Station! (Do you want to see what a tardigrade looks like?)
Some scientists suggest that, if a large meteor struck the Earth, seeds and bacteria might be ejected from the planet, still intact and dormant. Perhaps, after millions of years, they would enter the atmosphere of another world and begin to live there. Is it possible that all life on Earth came from an asteroid billions of years ago? We still don't know for sure.
At this point, we had circled the park looking for the Moon Tree. Then we realized, the original moon tree had been cut down in 2011. A seed from that tree had been planted in the same spot. Life goes on. Now that we were looking for a younger tree, we closed in on our target.
There it was in the Northeast corner of the park!
Except, this wasn't a Moon Tree either! According to the Atlas Obscura, the 2011 Moon Tree was cut down in October 2018. Some passersby ask us what we're looking for. I told them there used to be something cool here! We just missed it! How I wish there was still a Moon Tree in Philadelphia.
Maybe one day, we will plant a Philadelphia tree on the moon.