May, 2013

A Letter from Executive Director, Cynthia Randall

Dear CoS Library Partners, Supporters of Science, Great Ideas and All Things Curious,

During the month of May, Maine has been celebrating the wonders and achievements of space.  Many poets, artists and scientists have made looking into the night skies their life’s work seeking, both themselves and learning about our universe.  For most of us, we sleep (or try to but can’t because of the street light that is shining through the window) and that what happens in the night has no direct bearing on us.  How can a few lights shining at night have a significant impact on our health and the world? Like a canary in the coal mine, there is significant hidden health, environmental, and economic costs associated with not being able to see the stars of the night sky. 

I draw your attention to a thought-provoking one minute video called the Hidden Costs of Light Pollution who so pointedly stated that:

The globe has never been so electrified. Today, most of Europe, the United States and all of Japan appear as solid blocks of light in satellite photos. Meanwhile, the stars have been all but extinguished from our night skies. The Earth is now readily visible from space, but space is no longer visible from Earth.

Just about every organism on the planet lives its life according to the rhythms of daytime and darkness.  The National Institute of Health cites a recent large study of 164 countries implicating light pollution as a contributing factor to certain cancer rates. This study, conducted by University of Connecticut epidemiologist Richard Stevens and colleagues at the University of Haifa, shows that there is a 30–50% increased risk of breast cancer in countries with the highest versus lowest artificial light exposure at night. Keeping our bodies exposed to artificial light at night, increases cancer risk (such as breast and prostate cancers) that require hormones to grow. 

Humans also notice changes in their circadian rhythm when they travel by airplane between several time zones.  We feel tired and not ourselves.   Wildlife and fish experience this same disorientation of time when there is too much artificial light at night. Behavior governing mating, migration, sleep, and finding food are determined by the length of nighttime. Light pollution negatively disrupts these patterns.
What about the economic values of seeing stars?  Here in Maine, eco-tourism is a vital revenue source for businesses across the state.  Visitors come to enjoy the outdoors and to the amazement of many see the billions of stars for the first time. Recent calculations suggest that “two-thirds of humanity lives under skies polluted with light, and one-fifth can no longer see the Milky Way” says the National Geographic.  Bar Harbor, as example, uses the science and beauty of the night sky to strengthen not only their regional economy with the Acadia Night Sky Festival but their quality of life.  Thousands of people and telescopes are pointed upwards, on top of Cadillac Mountain, as festival participants learn about astronomy, local scientific research on light pollution, ongoing efforts to improve our lighting and to instill the desire in others to protect their night skies.

There are easy ways to take back the night.  Minimize your own light waste by opting for low wattage bulbs whenever possible and be sure to keep your lights off when you don’t need them. If you’re interested in learning more about the effects of light pollution or want to get involved with current efforts to curb them, the International Dark-Sky Association is a great place to start. 

Who knew that the ability to look at the stars was not only an awe-inspiring activity but that scientific information backs up the fact that star gazing is a healthy one as well for us and for our world?

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In the Spotlight……

Ron Thompson - Astronomer, Tinkerer and Cornerstones Telescope Guru

What happens when you mix an interest in ham radio, the ability to fix just about anything, a long night spent outside looking up and a desire to help people learn?  You get Ron Thompson, Director and Treasurer of Southern Maine Astronomers and a driving force behind the Cornerstones of Science Library Telescope Program. 

Its 1957 and Ron and a friend decide to go outside to lie down in a field to see if they can spot Sputnik, the recently launched Soviet satellite that ushered in the “space age.”   While unsuccessful in their attempt to see the satellite, they turned to his friend’s ham radio where they were able to hear the satellite’s “beep beeps” emanating from above.  That’s when Ron’s interest in astronomy and ham radio collided and he began a lifelong journey of looking up.

Fast forward to today and Ron is still looking up.  Only now, Ron is helping others to do the same.  With his presentation skills that he acquired and honed over the years in the military and telecommunications field, Ron is our “go to guy” for the Library Telescope Program.  Ron not only leads the training program for our Library Telescope Partner Workshops and other similar outreach efforts but also uses his tinkering skills originally acquired as a ham radio operator to modify each Partner telescope to allow for the optimum library patron experience.

We are fortunate to have Ron lead the Telescope Program.  He is not only a recognized authority on solar activity but he is also an accomplished presenter and trainer.   Those who have had the opportunity to learn from Ron always leave with a smile.  As it turns out, Ron leaves with a smile too knowing that he may have just helped a few others become hooked on astronomy and perhaps started them on a journey of looking up.
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In the News

Maine Native Part of International Space Station Crew

Bill CassidyAstronaut and Maine native Christopher Cassidy recently began his second space mission when he and two Russian Cosmonauts launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  As part of Expedition 35/36 to the ISS, Cassidy is serving as a Flight Engineer and will conduct two space walks as well as participate in several investigations.  While on board the ISS, Cassidy recently took time from his schedule to answer a number of questions from Lewiston-Auburn 8th graders who were communicating with Cassidy via Short Wave Radio.  Learn more about Expedition 35/36 and Astronaut Christopher Cassidy.

Searching for Supernovas

In January of this year the Eagle Hill Supernova Search Team, located in Washington County, discovered an exploding star.  Learn more about the team and the discovery.

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Cornerstones News

Space Day at the Sanford Schools

Cornerstones was fortunate to be able to participate in the recent Space Day event held throughout the Sanford schools on May 2nd.  There were a number of engaging activities for the students throughout the day.  We at Cornerstones even provided a Newton’s Laws of Motion presentation that allowed us to roll up our sleeves and have a little fun with the students.

Brunswick Junior High Space Day Event

Eight graders at the Brunswick Junior High recently participated in a Space Day event that featured top Aerospace Educator, Brian Eweson.  The event, sponsored in part by Cornerstones, included soil from the moon, meteorites and a display of Astronaut patches. 

Book Recommendations


Eight Days Gone

By Linda McReynolds  and Ryan O'Rourke

Oriented toward K-2nd grade and written in rhyming verse, this book explores the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.  The launch, landing, walk on the moon and return to Earth are just some of the topics addressed in Eight Days Gone.

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

By Neil DeGrasse Tyson and edited by Avis Lang

Astrophysicist Neal DeGrasse Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and popular face of all things outer space.  In this collection of presentations and articles he uses his successful style of focus and humor to addresses the importance of continuing the space program at a time when funding for such endeavors is less of a priority in Washington.

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Websites of the Month

Celebrating the Science of Astronomy and the Universe

StarTalk Radio with Neil Degrasse Tyson    
StarTalk Radio is a mixed bag of science and daily issues brought with both clarity and humor.  When asked about his target audience, Tyson replied, “All the people who never knew how much they’d love learning about space and science.”  So log on and submit a question, read the blog or tune in to current or past episodes of StarTalk.

Eyes on the Sky
Eyes on the Sky has two main objectives: astronomy outreach and education & light pollution reduction.  In addition to weekly themed video presentations about the night sky, visitors can get answers to questions about stargazing and telescopes, access a glossary of terms, download free star charts, find free videos that help with stargazing and learn simple steps we can take to reduce light pollution.  You can also visit the Eyes on the Sky YouTube channel at

Astronomy Picture of the Day - NASA
Interested in some amazing imagery?  If so, this is the site for you.  From sources such as Voyager 2 and the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA posts a different image along with a brief description every day.
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Library Partners…….

Presentation:  Saving a Living Fossil - Underwater video observations of the chambered nautilus and its habitat

When:  Monday, May 13, 5:30 – 7 p.m. Science Café 
Where:  Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library, Monument Square, Portland, ME
The chambered nautilus is an ancient animal that has roamed the deep ocean, virtually unchanged, for nearly 500 million years. But a mere 50 years of unregulated harvesting has severely depleted nautilus populations across the Indo-Pacific.
Research teams have traveled to the Philippines, Australia, Fiji, and American Samoa to collect data to support conservation of the nautilus. Underwater videos taken by the scientists have documented the extent of population decline, as well as information on its habitat, species diversity, and some of the first observed behaviors of nautiluses in the wild.  
The presentation will be provided by Gregory Jeff Barord, PhD student at City University of New York, Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, and Maine students Joshua Utsch, co-creator of a website to Save the Nautilus.
This free program is sponsored by Cornerstones of Science, the Gulf of Maine Marine Education Association, and Portland Public Library.

Correction in the April Newsletter…

In the April Letter from the Executive Director, I mistakenly talked about carbon dioxide as the culprit for increasing the acidification of Maine’s ocean’s bays.  A wonderful reader and supporter of Cornerstones gently told me of my error.  The fact is that carbon dioxide is not the culprit, but nitrogen.  Runoff from city streets and fertilized lawns, among other places all send excess nitrogen and degrade coastal waters. It is the nitrogen that fertilizes algae blooms.  According to Friends of Casco Bay, green algae smothers mud flats, causes fish kills, outbreaks of shellfish poisoning, marine mammal deaths, and dead zones.  Deteriorating coastal water quality threatens our marine resources, our quality of life, and our economy.”

Thanks Dwight for your email.