Star Log 2022-12-20 Evening (Fairbanks, AK, US)

Did stargazing from about 8:30pm to 10pm AKST yesterday evening at the Chena Pump boat launch. I wouldn't call it one of my better stargazing session, but it was the first one I've done at -40 ℉ (-40 ℃). I wonder if that puts me in some kind of exclusive club. Maybe the Club of People Crazy Enough to Go Stargazing at -40.

The skies aloft were clear, but the experience was diminished somewhat by reduced visibility from patchy surface fog. An inversion layer was also causing difficulties, so that it was difficult to get away from the cloud from my own vehicle exhaust, which I had to keep running due to the extreme cold.

I decided that it was just too cold to mess around with the telescope, so I did a combination of binoculars and naked-eye stargazing. Orion was conveniently placed near the horizon, which helps with neck comfort, so I spent a lot of the time looking around Orion. I had a fairly good view of the sword nebula although the image would occasional get a little blurry. I also took a few glimpses of Mars, Taurus, and Perseus. I couldn't see too much around Cygnus with my naked eye, but those wavy stars south of Sadr (γ Cygnus) were showing up well in the binoculars. After comparing this experience with my out-of-town experience two nights ago, I think the boat launch is still suffering from a lot of light pollution, though it is still a big improvement over stargazing outside my apartment building.

My wife wonders how I can manage to stargaze at -40 ℉ without freezing my buns off. By using several layers of good thermal clothing and winter gear, and keeping my head well-wrapped in a scarf and hood, I don't have trouble keeping my head, chest, arms, or legs warm. The tricky part is keeping the fingers and toes from getting numb, even while wearing several layers of thick socks, boots, and gloves. Last night I tried out a pack of HotHands hand and toe warmers. They were helpful, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. Putting the hand warmer in your glove is not sufficient to keep the fingers warm. However, it does make it more convenient to warm them back up, by simply pulling the fingers in and grasping the warmer for a minute or two. The toe warmers did not help at all; however, I discovered that they had slid away from the toes and were stuck under my heels — so they didn't get a fair trial. Disclaimer: the package says for safety reasons you are not supposed to touch the warmers directly to your skin, so do so at your own risk. But honestly they never got anywhere near-warm-enough to cause a direct-contact burn.

Today is winter solstice, by the way. Solar noon for Fairbanks, Alaska puts the sun about two degrees above the horizon, with 3h 56m of daytime, and 6h 42m of usable light (including civil twilight).[1]

End Notes

[1] According to the Suntimes software version 0.14.8, downloaded from Freedroid.

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