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Science in the Air January 12, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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painting   It is Science Fair season again and I am more excited about it than my daughter is. This year, she will do a project as part of a team. She and her partners have already done preliminary research, created a methodology after some trials, and recorded volumes of data.

Last year, when we went to the local SARSEF awards, we were hopeful that they would recognize my daughter’s hard work. She did not win one of the big prizes but did win membership in the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA). Even more surprising, she won the Mary Belle McCorkle Award for Work Ethic. Now that really meant something. Every Saturday for a full solar year we went to her school’s parking lot and noted where the shadow of a light pole fell at 12:05. The resulting analemma is still painted on the parking lot and teachers from the school bring their classes out to see it each year to discuss the elongated figure eight.

This year we are using an electronic thermometer from Vernier to measure heat. I cannot tell you more than that, but it is very exciting to see students figuring out how to work out their mistakes in experimental methodology and how to avoid them. One of my friends has a son who has a passion for astronomy also. He is trying to figure out a way of measuring light pollution, a very big problem for Tucson. We are an hour or so away from Kitt Peak and the astronomers there have been complaining about the encroaching pollution from streetlights in Tucson. In the 1950s, when the government chose the site in the Tohono O’odham reservation, city lights were not a big problem. The city took care to install lights over the years that did not illuminate the sky as much as they illuminated the roads. Now the story has changed.

The young man with the passion for light pollution has been developing his own tool for figuring comparing light pollution and is running into the same difficulties professional astronomers are and reaching some of the same conclusions. One tool that Sky and Telescope recently touted was the use of the digital camera in combination with Photoshop to determine the degree of light pollution. The article describes an interesting technique that might just determine the course of his research in light pollution. Of course, he will have to wait until Scouts dismisses for the evening before he gets to work on it.

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