Live in Idaho? Look Up at the Nation's First Dark Sky Reserve

iStock
iStock

Nighttime light pollution touches nearly 80 percent of the globe, according to researchers. But thanks to a group of concerned astronomers, the evening sky in central Idaho will stay starry for years to come. As the Associated Press reports, a roughly 1400-square-mile section of the Gem State will be protected as America’s very first “dark sky reserve,” with locals committed to combating artificial light use.

The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve—now the third largest in the world, and the twelfth of its kind across the world—will include the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Sun Valley, and Blaine, Custer and Elmore counties, according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), the group responsible for naming the protected area.

The IDA is an astronomer-founded nonprofit “that works to help stop light pollution and protect the night skies for present and future generations,” according to their website. In addition to advocacy and education work, the nonprofit works with everyone from legislators to lighting manufacturers to reduce urban light and protect swaths of sky.

To be named a Dark Sky Reserve by the IDA, an area must possess “an exceptional or distinguished quality of night sky, view of the stars, and nocturnal environment.” Committed local officials, landowners, and residents collaborate to regulate light levels and keep the night sky clear.

The night skies of rural Idaho are famously pristine, offering clear views of the Milky Way. In 1999, long before the region was officially named a Dark Sky Reserve, residents of the town of Ketchum, near Sun Valley, passed an ordinance to keep them that way, NPR reports. These kinds of rules don't simply benefit Idaho residents—they're for everyone who wants to enjoy one of the world's dwindling natural wonders, officials now say.

In a news release, Steve Botti, mayor of the Custer County town of Stanley, Idaho, said, "The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve was created not just for locals, but for all Idahoans and visitors from across the world who can come here and experience the primeval wonder of the starry night sky."

[h/t Associated Press]

A Rare ‘Full Cold Moon Kiss’ Is Coming This Week—Here’s How to See It

jamesvancouver/iStock via Getty Images
jamesvancouver/iStock via Getty Images

Every year ends with a cold moon—the name given to a full moon that appears in December. The full cold moon that's lighting up skies in 2019 will come with a bonus spectacle for sky-gazers. As Forbes reports, a planetary "kiss" between Saturn and Venus will coincide with the last full moon of the year. Here's what you need to know about the astronomical events.

What is a Full Cold Moon Kiss?

The full moon of each month has a unique nickname associated with the time of year it occurs. A cold moon happens as temperatures drop and winter settles in, hence the name. December's full moon has also been called the long nights moon by some Native American tribes and the moon Before Yule in Europe, according to Travel and Leisure.

This year's moon will be visible the night of December 11 through the morning of December 12. On this same night, the planets Venus and Saturn will appear closer than usual in the night sky. The celestial bodies will be less than 2° apart and share a celestial longitude, a phenomena known as a conjunction or a planetary "kiss."

How to See the Full Cold Moon Kiss

During twilight on Tuesday, December 10, the bright planet Venus and the dimmer planet Saturn will arrive at their closest conjunction, 1.8° apart, above the southwestern horizon. The following evening, they'll be just .01° further away. Stick around the night of Wednesday, December 11 to catch the full cold moon, which reaches peak illumination at 9:12 p.m. on the West Coast and at 12 minutes after midnight on the East Coast.

Not planning on staying up late to see the moon reach its fullest state? Moonrise on December 11 will be just as spectacular. When the moon surfaces around sunset, it will appear larger and more reddish in color in the sky. Meanwhile, Venus's and Saturn's kiss will be visible 180º away.

[h/t Forbes]

First-Ever Map of Titan Reveals That Saturn’s Moon Is a Lot Like Earth

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho

If there's any life in this solar system outside Earth, we likely won't find it on Mars or even on another planet. Saturn's moon Titan is the place in our celestial neighborhood that's most similar to our own home, and it's where scientists think we have one of the best chances of discovering life. Now, as Nature reports, newly visualized data shows just how much Titan has in common with Earth.

Between 2004 and 2017, the NASA spacecraft Cassini performed more than 100 fly-bys of Saturn's moon. Titan is unique in that it's the only moon in the solar system with clouds and a dense, weather-forming atmosphere. This has made it hard to study from space, but by flying close to the surface, Cassini was able to capture the landscape in an unprecedented level of detail.

Map of Titan.
The first global geologic map of Titan.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

NASA's new map of Titan, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, reveals a varied world of mountains, valleys, plains, and sandy dunes that starkly contrast with the desolate wastelands we've seen on neighboring planets. It's also home to seas and lakes, making it the only place in the solar system other than Earth with known bodies of liquid. But instead of water, the pools mottling the moon's surface consist of liquid methane.

Even with its Earth-like geology and atmosphere, chances of finding life on Titan are still slim: Temperatures on the surface average around -300°F. If life does exist there, it's likely limited to microbes in the moon's craters and icy volcanoes.

It will be a while before NASA is able to study Titan up close again: NASA's next drone mission to the body is set for 2034. Until then, scientists have plenty of data recorded by Cassini to teach them more about how the moon formed and continues to change.

[h/t Nature]

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