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The Other Half of History

At the Wednesday, May 6, 2015, gathering of the Rotary Club of South Bend, I was the guest speaker, at which I addressed local astronomy, mostly in the context of South Bend's sesquicentennial. Below is an amalgam of notes, links, and excerpts. Here's an edited audio recording of the talk.

Before I got underway, I projected this poem by Walt Whitman for people to read as they ate. Though printed later in Leaves of Grass, Whitman wrote it in 1865, the year South Bend was incorporated.

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

-Walt Whitman, 1865


(Rotarians opened meeting with Pledge of Allegiance.)

When founding fathers picked a symbol to represent the ideals of statehood, they chose stars.

Flanked on stage by U.S. and State of Indiana flags, both of which feature stars.

As South Bend celebrates its sesquicentennial, realize that 75 years of accumulated time—half of SB’s history—occurred between sunset and sunrise. I find value in understanding that half. This afternoon I’d like to honor South Bend's nighttime heritage by sharing what’s happening in our community, astronomically-speaking.

For starters, Michiana Astronomical Society Inc. (MAS) has been supporting amateur astronomy here for 40 years, and last year it became a 501(c)3 entity. Anticipating SB150, last year MAS painted the eastern crosswalk at Washington and Michigan streets. An elongated star chart painted on the bricks depicts South Bend’s First Midnight—how the sky appeared May 22, 1865.

One star in the northern sky has particular significance for South Bend. In the constellation Draco the Dragon is the star Eltanin, approximately 150 LY away. It’s a big dying orange giant that is “moving toward us, and will make a close pass at a distance of 28 light years 1.5 million years from now, when it will be the brightest star in the sky and will rival our current Sirius. “ (Kaler) When South Bend’s founders were penning the documents of incorporation, starlight left Eltanin, traveling outward at the speed of light--186,000 miles per second. After 150 years, that starlight is just now reaching our eyes in South Bend. Eltanin is South Bend’s birthday star. I have a star finder to pass out to help you find it. (See sidebar at First Midnight for two pages.)

This May 22 and 23, MAS members will set up telescopes to share some other sky highlights on its 150th birthday party. That Friday, for example, just after the sun sets, look west down the Jefferson St. bridge to see bright Jupiter, a thin crescent moon, and brilliant Venus all in a row. As night progresses, Saturn rises higher in the southeast. Eltanin is up all night. Come out and see if you can find Eltanin with me.

How many people have seen the Milky Way? [Most raised hand]

How many have seen it from South Bend? [About three raised hand]

Get under a canopy of stars, discover your human side.

May 15-17

Through YMCA Camp Eberhart

Kids aged 9-13

Yarger family role in its history

July12-18, 2015

Trained 5 local educators

Teach kids how telescopes work

Then give account to online network of research-grade telescopes

Kids' role

Appeal for astro art exhibit support

Scope Out South Bend

A treasure hunt with telescopes

Rotarians, we're seeking sites to display clues for treasure hunt

Please contact Dr. Kate Rueff (k.rueff "AT" to offer site

Experience astronomy in new way

Telescope at eight local library branches

Mark your calendar

Total lunar eclipse Sept. 27, 2015, just after 9 PM

Completing the Scope Out South Bend program then

2017 Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017 which I expect to be the most observed celestial event in U.S. history

Over 80% eclipse here; total eclipse along the swath from Oregon to South Carolina

Sun Funnel team preparing for solar events

Designing prototype of Sun Funnel for commercial market

Other outlets for astronomy

Several planetariums in our region include public programming

Art Klinger retirement; wish him well

Segue back to night sky

Planetariums be the only place for lots of stars

My concern is where will we be in 50 years.

People will say, "I can't see Scheat!"

Star in Great Square of Pegasus

South Bend’s bicentennial star in 2065

It's light that left in 1865 is 3/4 of the way here.

In 50 years, will the stars be gone from our skies?

How will you be remembered?

Are we watching the slow extinction of stars?

It’s not just half of South Bend's history that has occurred at night

Half of human history

Your body has evolved to be an exquisite being that needs darkness

Melatonin only in the presence of darkness.

Shift work issues, breast cancer, etc. (see cited works at Dark Skies)

It’s not just that we’re losing stars

We’re losing darkness

Think of light pollution as second hand smoke

Newly lighted road with "decorative LED lights"

LED, the promise and the peril

Rich in blue spectrum; use judiciously

Light Up South Bend

Any new outdoor lighting projects, call me first

(shield, or full cutoff; turn down, LED 2.5X; not blue)

Body sensitive to blue lights

Parents are right in telling kids to turn off monitors and screens earlier

Get the f.lux app from

Let’s have an epiphany together

Stars pervade our culture

Revisit star party May 15-17

Be bold, do something different

Get out in a field and spend a night dedicated to the stars

Observe and wonder


Hubble Telescope's discretionary time used for Deep Field


Be intentionally inclusive

Excitement of SB150 Young Astronomers

Youths develop research or program or investigation

Additional teams in Michiana forthcoming

Google Sky app

Naming a star

I'll do it for you

Instead, give $75.00 to a local planetarium

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