Happy New Year!

What a year it’s been! Amy found Uranus with 2015-logoher binoculars (no small feat!!) and we both learned how to use setting circles. We gave one of our Lynn & Amy Shows at the Neville Public Museum to a captivated crowd, and together attended our very first star party in Minnesota. We went to the annual club Perseids picnic last summer, and uploaded our 100th blog to this website.

November and December were especially busy as our jobs bogged us down. Then the shopping and baking season kicked in and we prepared for family time and Christmas and the company that it brings. I baked a zillion Christmas cookies, and got to spend a whole week with my first grandson who is quickly figuring out how to pull himself up and stand on his own. It was magical.

However, along with the joys of Christmas comes the crappy skies of Wisconsin. As the atmosphere above us grows colder each winter, the condensation and cloudiness spread out horizontally and results in mostly overcast days and nights. The clouds pretty much roll in here late in November and stay until the Messier Marathon. Then, when it does warm up a little, we are stuck with ground and air temperatures that are almost the same, which brings fog and condensation. Oh, and living a few miles away from a Great Lake doesn’t help much either.

And if that’s not bad enough, the cold temperatures discourage all except the heartiest from going outside for more than a few minutes – even on the clearest nights. Right now, the wind chill is double digits below zero, and last night the actual temperature was -7°F. If I heard right, the wind chill could dip below -30°F tonight. Sigh.

However, despite all the current weather gloom, there is a lot to look forward to in the coming year, starting off with the NPMAS Christmas Party this Wednesday (the White Elephant Gift Exchange is always a hoot!). Then there is some winter camping at Camp U-Na-Li-Ya in a few weeks, lots of blogs to write, and a calendar full of meetings and pizza at Happy Joe’s. There will be warmer nights of observing at Parmentier’s, public observing events, meteor showers, a couple of total lunar eclipses, the New Horizons spacecraft arriving at Pluto, and hopefully another great trip to the Minnesota Star Party.

The year 2015 promises to be a great year for the Astro Babes, and we hope it is a great year for you, too. Happy New Year!

– Lynn

Observing verses the elements

Cloudy tonight or no?

Until recently, I’ve used The Weather Channel’s hourly forecasts on weather.com to decide if I should bother packing up the car for an observing session. Then, as sunset got closer, I’d check it again and then usually look at one of their interactive cloud maps to see if there were any surprises coming our way from the west.

But I’ve known for sometime that there was something out there called a Clear Sky Chart designed specifically as a weather forecast for astronomers.

This past weekend was a Kroes observing weekend for us here in Brown County, and at last week’s meeting, Tony mentioned the Clear Sky Chart weather predictions for the observing weekend. That got me thinking that I really needed to take a serious look at this tool.

Formerly called Clear Sky Clocks, the charts are weather forecasts created just for astronomers. Charts are available for more than 4,000 locations, and each provides data for a nine-mile radius. It forecasts cloud cover, transparency, seeing and light pollution from the moon for the next 48 hours.

Listed across the top is local time, reading from left to right in military time. The four rows below that concern Sky conditions, with values for cloud cover, transparency, seeing and darkness (which includes interference from the moon). The bottom three Ground rows display weather conditions at the surface.

Each block of color represents a value, and a legend below the chart explains what each color value is. You can also click on any block to display a full map and more detail about each row’s value (the blocks might be in your local time, but the map pages display in GMT). As I understand it though, if you can find a line of blocks in the first four rows that are blue, that’s when you should be able to get out and observe.

But be sure to look at the bottom three rows, too. The strength of the wind will determine your own comfort as well as the steadiness of your equipment. And humidity can mean fog, and can also affect your optics depending upon whether you’re sitting on the top of a hill or down in a valley. And temperature tells you how much layering you’ll need.

Because the maps are available for free, many clubs display local Clear Sky Charts, but if not, here’s the website where you can learn more and also search for a map near you:

http://cleardarksky.com/csk/

If you’re new to the chart, you’ll find plenty more information about the charts and how to read them. And FYI, for this last weekend,  weather.com was off both nights, but the Clear Sky Clock was right on target both nights.

Lynn