‘Star Catcher,’ Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. Photo: Mihail Minkov via International Dark Sky Association, darksky.org

EYES TO THE SKY: Act for dark skies. See Jupiter and Saturn with Swan and Scorpion

Returning to Jupiter and Saturn in the nighttime sky, we find the planets in the neighborhood of summer’s most iconic star patterns.

July 13 – 26, 2020

Mount Washington — Astrophotographer Mihail Minkov’s “Star Catcher” placed first in the International Dark Sky Association’s “Connecting to the Dark” category of IDA’s first annual photography competition, “Capture the Dark.” Minkov accompanied the photograph with this statement: “I have a four-year-old daughter. She is fascinated by the planets, stars and the Milky Way. So I decided to make her part of the process and try to show her what it’s like to be out under the dark sky, and see the beauty of the night sky. I hope that one day she will remember that and this memory will make her care for the planet and the night sky.” 

These starry summer nights, the picture could be of you or me or children in our care.

Outdoors at dusk or nightfall, facing southeast over a meadow alight with blinking, streaming fireflies, I look up to discover bright planet Jupiter close above the horizon. The air vibrates, then my ears vibrate with the trilling of American toads singing from a nearby wetland. Barred owls exchange their hooting bark “who cooks for you?” It is just before 10 o’clock. Jupiter (-2.73 magnitude) rises at 8:23 p.m. on the 13th; an hour earlier on the 26th. To Jupiter’s left, dimmer Saturn (0.12 m) rises at 8:45 p.m. on the 13th; nearly an hour earlier on the 26th. Note that this week the planets rise as the sun sets. Refer to the sunrise-sunset-day length chart, below, as a guide to timing sky darkness. Allow about an hour after sunset for bright objects to be visible and an hour and a half to two hours after sunset (Twl A = astronomical twilight) for dimmer stars and constellations.

Fragment from sunrisesunset.com

The celestial object we and the child in the photograph gaze at could also be planet Venus, the third brightest object in Earth’s skies, after the Sun and moon. See Venus (-4.47 m), now the Morning Star, in the east between about 3:30 a.m. and 4:50 a.m.

Returning to Jupiter and Saturn in the nighttime sky, we find the planets in the neighborhood of summer’s most iconic star patterns. Turn up the light on your computer to study the illustration that follows. Locate Cygnus the Swan in the Summer Triangle, near zenith; the Teapot to the right of Jupiter; and Scorpius the Scorpion skimming the skyline beyond. When darkness falls and until about midnight, away from artificial lights at the best view to the southeast that you can find, become part of the starry night.

East to southwest skyview for July 13, 2020, at 9:45 p.m. Photo lightened for legibility. Image: Judy Isacoff/Starry Night

In closing, I appeal to you to take a moment now to act to stop the loss of dark skies. The fate of long-sought Massachusetts dark-sky bills will be decided by the end of this month. I urge all Massachusetts residents and stakeholders – everyone reading this – to scroll down to “Call to action” for information and a sample letter/email.


International Dark Sky Association (IDA) https://www.darksky.org
Capture the Dark photography contest winning submissions with contact information


https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator — Adam Hines and Richard Neal

Call to action

Massachusetts Dark Sky Bill — the deadline to support the bill is approaching

See highlights in the sample letter that follows and at https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S1937

Contact your state senator and representative by email and/or telephone to request passage https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator — Adam Hines and Richard Neal

My dear Senator Adam Hinds,  adam.hinds@masenate.gov

As a constituent [or other], I urge you to voice your support for S.1937, “An Act improving outdoor lighting and increasing dark-sky visibility,” now in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. Once enacted, this important legislation:

  • will provide simple yet effective outdoor-lighting regulations to help control light pollution and protect the nighttime environment for the health of nature and people
  • will reduce needless energy waste (up to 50% of the electricity used) caused when state- or municipally-funded lighting projects employ unshielded or poorly shielded lighting fixtures. It’s not a good use of taxpayer money to illuminate the clouds!
  • costs nothing to implement — its regulations do not force existing lighting fixtures to be changed nor do they increase costs for outdoor-lighting projects going forward
  • creates savings for cities and towns by lowering the rates that they pay to utilities for the electricity to power their streetlights
  • saves the Commonwealth money by monitoring and curtailing wasteful street lighting practices at the Department of Transportation

The precepts of the dark-sky bills have been embraced by the Illuminating Engineering Society, American Medical Association, Sierra Club Massachusetts, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Massachusetts Municipal Association. In fact, Massachusetts is the only New England state that has never passed statewide outdoor-lighting legislation.

So please add your voice to those urging the Senate Ways & Means Committee to approve S.1937. Then I ask that you vote in favor once it reaches the Senate floor. I am depending on you!


(Sign here!)