astronomy

22
Oct

Light Pollution - An Unnecessary Evil


Light Pollution over Melbourne as seen from Kinglake

Light Pollution is an unnecessary evil, a sad result of poor lighting design.

Light Pollution:

    Cloud Forecast Loop

    Summary

    Almost all free weather websites and smartphone apps use data from the United States GFS global weather model as it is the only one openly published for all to use. But for cloud forecasts in the Australian region, there are two significantly better (although less user friendly) options you should also be looking at. All up then, here are my three recommended sources for cloud forecasts in the Australian region:

    1) Synthetic Satellite Forecast Loop from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology ACCESS model: Australian Region Forecast Loop.
    2) European Model forecast via the Norwegian site yr.no (the only site I know of that publishes European Model data: e.g. Heathcote, Victoria. Search for your nearest largest town, then choose 'Hour by Hour' and 'Detailed' to see the full cloud breakdown for high/medium/low cloud.
    3) US Model via Skippy Sky: This is the best display of GFS data and the most user friendly of these three options. I would place greater weight on the previous two models though, particularly for short-term forecasts.

    13
    Sep

    Cloud Forecast Accuracy

    This set of images compares the actual infrared satellite image for midday Saturday 13th September 2008 with forecasts made on the same day and up to 5 days ahead. The forecasts made up to 2-3 days ahead are quite accurate, so that a reasonable estimate of the astronomy prospects for a Saturday night could be made on the Thursday beforehand. While the general trends are still correct in the 5 day forecast, the details for a particular location become much less accurate.

    07
    Sep

    Cloud Forecasts for Victoria, Australia

    Edit Oct 2009: Since I originally wrote this article, SkippySky has become available. It uses the same US GFS weather model data so the discussion about accuracy is still relevant, but SkippySky is a much more convenient way to access the cloud forecast data, with great maps for all of Australia among other places.

    Check out Cloud Forecasts for Astronomers for the story behind some of this and how to generate your own cloud forecast maps using US GFS model data.

    Also see Cloud Forecast Accuracy for comparisons of the forecast charts with actual satellite images.

    Melbourne




    Explanation Key:



    06
    Sep

    Cloud Forecasts for Astronomers

    Edit Oct 2009: Since I originally wrote this article, SkippySky has become available. It uses the same US GFS weather model data so the discussion about accuracy is still relevant, but SkippySky is a much more convenient way to access the cloud forecast data, with great maps for all of Australia among other places.

    Astronomers want good weather forecasts. In particular, they need to know about cloud. When you're deciding whether to travel two hours to a dark sky site for the weekend, an accurate forecast is invaluable.

    Saturday 13th September 2008
    1 Day Ahead Forecast

    The 'Clear Sky Clock' is available via the web to amateur astronomers across North America, and includes not only cloud forecasts but also estimates for transparency and seeing. For those of us in the rest of the world, there are several other options:

    Guessing the Weather

    Below are a few weather links that may be of some use to other astronomers. I've listed them in the way that I use them ahead of a decision on whether to travel north from Melbourne for a night of astrophotography. I have no formal qualifications in this area (although I am the son of a meteorologist). This may be most relevant for other's in the south-east but the links should be useful in most areas of Australia.

    BoM = Australian Bureau of Meteorology
    GFS = US Numerical Model
    All times quoted are AEST (UT +10)

    2-4 Days Ahead

    K242 near Aberdeen, Scotland

    The Aberdeen Astronomical Society (AAS) in Scotland has a dark sky site on Forestry Commission land around 20 miles west of Aberdeen. Just hope the weather co-operates!

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