Thursday, October 31, 2013
Saturday: Don’t forget to “fall back” tonight. Before you fall back on to your bed, set your clock back one hour to the real time. Daylight savings ends early Sunday morning at 2 a.m. This means one more hour of sky watching at night because the Sun will set one hour earlier. Ben Franklin proposed the idea of “saving daylight” by adjusting our clocks way back in 1784. Daylight savings time was first utilized during World War I as a way to save electricity. After the war, it was abandoned. It was reintroduced during World War II on a year-round basis. From 1945 to 1966, some areas implemented daylight savings and some did not. But, it was not implemented with any uniformity as to when it should start and stop. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 codified the daylight savings rules.
Sunday: Lacerta, the faint lizard constellation, is straight overhead at 9 p.m. It was named by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687 to fill the space between the much brighter and well-defined constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus going clockwise from the constellation just south of Lacerta. Chinese know this group of stars as a flying serpent or dragon.
Monday: Jupiter is rising from the northeast horizon at 9 p.m. By 11 p.m., it is two fists above the east horizon.
Tuesday: Venus is about a fist to the left of the crescent moon at 5 p.m. Tomorrow night at this time, Venus will be less than a fist below the moon.
Wednesday: Did you look up Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish based on last week’s Halloween costume suggestion? Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a Northern Irish astrophysicist. As a postdoctoral student, she discovered the first radio pulsar, a super massive rapidly rotating star. Antony Hewish was her supervisor. Hewish and a colleague shared the 1974 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery while Bell, who made the actual observations, was not listed. Many astronomers criticized this omission, noting that her observation was one of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the twentieth century.
Thursday: While Stonehenge is an ancient burial ground visited by religious people for thousands of years, MIThenge is an 825-foot long hallway on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited by the Sun’s rays twice a year. Every year in November and January, the setting Sun lines up with a narrow window at the end of the long hall and the light shines down to the opposite end. This season’s alignment is from November 10-13. For more information, visit http://goo.gl/0hwFQf or visit MIT.
Friday: When Napoleon Dynamite danced to the Alphaville song, “Forever Young” at his prom, he didn’t know he might have been learning about the giant asteroid Vesta. According to the latest pictures from the Dawn spacecraft, Vesta is continually stirring up its outermost layer bringing fresh material to the surface. This makes Vesta look “forever young, Vesta wants to be forever young. Vesta wants to live forever, forever, and ever.” Go to http://www.universetoday.com/98284/vesta-looks-forever-young/ for more information. Vesta is visible with binoculars, about midway between Mars and Spica, three fists above the east-southeast horizon at 5:30 a.m. Mars is the bright and reddish point of light four fists above the southeast horizon. NASA built and launched Dawn in 2007 for less than half the cost of a new NFL football stadium. Its mission is to study the early solar system by gathering data from two asteroids that have remained relatively unchanged from their formation.
The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Saturday: Dead October flowers lead to November meteor showers. While the Leonid meteor shower is the big name event, the few bright and surprisingly colorful fireballs per hour you can see during the typical Southern and Northern Taurids meteor showers may make it worth your while to stay up. These two showers overlap from about October 19 to November 19. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull. This point is about four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist to the right of the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke.
Sunday: The Stargate movies and TV shows have access to a portal to other planets. Harry Potter has access to a portal to the Chamber of Secrets. You have access to a Portal to the Universe. This portal is not in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom but on the web at http://www.portaltotheuniverse.org/. It is a repository of up-to-date astronomy news, blogs, and podcasts. A recent story highlights the discovery of a planetary system in which the planets do not orbit around the equator of the star. Astronomers are surprised by this misalignment because it goes against their current theories of solar system formation. Read more about the discovery at http://goo.gl/oI6qeq.
Monday: Jupiter is six fists above the south horizon at 7 a.m.
Tuesday: At 7 a.m., the moon, Mars, and Regulus make a small, nearly equilateral triangle about four fists above due southeast. The bright star Regulus is at the top of the triangle.
Wednesday: Late October to-do list. Buy costume. Check. Watch Orion rise in the east-southeast sky just before midnight. Check. Take kids to Boo Central. Double check. Once again, CWU clubs and organizations will turn the SURC Ballroom into a monstrously fun, safe, and educational place to trick or treat. In fact, it will be “science or treat” for the 4 to 9-year-old kids who visit the CWU astronomy and physics club booths. Boo Central runs from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the SURC Ballroom on the CWU campus tomorrow night. Contact Campus Activities at 509-963-1450 for more information.
Thursday: Halloween. The pumpkins. The candy. The children going door-to-door dressed up as their favorite astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish. At least they should because Halloween is, in part, an astronomical holiday. Halloween is a “cross-quarter date”, a day approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. Historically, the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter dates as the beginnings of seasons. For the Celts, winter began with Halloween. So when all those little Burnells and Hewishs come to your door tomorrow night, honor the Celts and give them a wintry treat. If they ask you for a trick, point out Venus, one fist above the south-southwest horizon at 6 p.m.
Friday: Happy Celtic New Year! Many historians think that this day, known for the festival of Samhain, was the ancient Celtic New Year’s Day. Samhain, Old Irish for “summer’s end”, was a harvest festival that may have contributed to some of the customs of our current “holiday” of Halloween.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Saturday: Venus is about a fist above the southwest horizon at 6:30 p.m. The bright star Antares is more of a challenge to find, about a half a fist to the lower right of Venus.
Sunday: The Orionid meteor shower consists of the Earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks for the next two nights and early mornings. This is not a meteor shower that results in a meteor storm. There will be about 15-20 meteors per hour, many more meteors than are visible on a typical night but not the storm that some showers bring. In addition, the nearly full moon will illuminate the sky and obscure the dimmer meteors. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about three fists above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. If you fall asleep tonight, you can catch the tail end of the shower every night until early November. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/35wHaN.
Monday: Halloween is next week so make sure you load up on peanut clusters, almond clusters, and open star clusters. That last one will be easy (and cheap… actually free) because two of the most prominent open star clusters in the sky are easily visible in the autumn sky. The sideways V-shaped Hyades Cluster is two fists above due east at 10 p.m. Containing over 300 stars; the Hyades cluster is about 150 light years away and 625 million years old. The Pleiades Cluster, a little more than three fists above due east, is larger at over 1000 stars and younger. Compared to our 5 billion year old Sun, the 100 million year age of the Pleiades is infant-like. The moon will help you find these clusters. This morning at 6:30 a.m., the Pleiades cluster is less than one fist to the upper right of the moon and the Hyades cluster is about one fist to the upper left of the moon. Tomorrow morning, the moon sits in the “V” of the Hyades cluster.
Tuesday: The wintertime constellation Orion is making its way into the evening sky. Nearly the entire constellation has risen by 11:30 p.m. and its bright star Betelgeuse is one fist above due east at 11:20 p.m. You may still see an occasional Orionid meteor for the next two weeks in this region of the sky.
Wednesday: The Milky Way makes a faint white trail from due northeast through straight overhead to due southwest at 9 p.m. Starting in the northeast, the Milky Way “passes through” the prominent constellations Auriga the charioteer, Cassiopeia the queen, and Cygnus the swan with its brightest star, Deneb, nearly straight overhead. After Cygnus, you’ll see Aquila the eagle with its brightest star Altair about four and a half fists above the southwest horizon. As you started your visual journey, you may have noticed Jupiter rising above the east-northeast horizon.
Thursday: Jupiter is less than a fist above the east-northeast horizon at 11 p.m.
Friday: “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.” Constellations can be considered neighborhoods in the nighttime sky. But, the stars in those constellations are not necessarily neighbors in real life. For example, the bright stars in the constellation Cassiopeia range from 19 to over 10,000 light years away from Earth. One constellation that consists of real neighbors is Ursa Major. Or, more specifically, the Big Dipper. Five stars in the Big Dipper are all moving in the same direction in space, are about the same age and are all about 80 light years from Earth. “Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Skat, the third brightest star in the constellation Aquarius is a neighbor to these five Big Dipper stars, all of which are about 30 light years from each other. They are thought to have originated in the same nebula about 500 million years ago. Just like human children do, these child stars are slowly moving away from home. Skat is about three fists above due south at 10 p.m. The much brighter Fomalhaut is a fist and a half below Skat. And, it’s not fun being below Skat.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Saturday: Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a dolphin. A dolphin? The constellation Delphinus the dolphin is nearly six fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8:30 p.m. The constellation’s two brightest stars are called Sualocin and Rotanev, which is Nicolaus Venator spelled backwards. Venator worked at the Palermo Observatory in Italy in the mid nineteenth century. He slipped these names into Giuseppe Piazzi’s star catalog without him noticing. The Daily Record (shop Ellensburg) would never let anything like that get into their newspaper. Their editing (shop Ellensburg) staff is too good. Nothing (pohs grubsnellE) evades their gaze.
Sunday: What do Justin Beiber and Betelgeuse have in common? Both are superstars. One may be around for as long as another few years. The other will be around for only a million more years. Baby, baby, baby, ohh, you need to learn more about Betelgeuse, the real super giant star that is big enough to hold about one million Suns. For more information about Betelgeuse, go to http://goo.gl/7D83D5. You’ll find it one fist above due east at midnight.
Monday: Tire track forensic analysis comes to Mars? It’s not needed yet but the possibility now exists. Mars Curiosity rover took a photo of its own wheel track in a small sandy ridge. Go to http://goo.gl/VwyQh for a photo of the rover’s wheel track compared to a photo Buzz Aldrin’s boot print on the moon. For the next few mornings, Mars is to the upper left of Regulus. Mars is the reddish point of light. At 6 a.m., they’ll be more than three fists above the east-southeast horizon.
Tuesday: Venus is a half a fist above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m. The bright star Antares is about a pinky width to the lower left of Venus.
Wednesday: Jupiter is about a half a fist above the east-northeast horizon at midnight.
Thursday: What time is tea time? Certainly not during an autumn evening. The constellation Sagittarius the archer, with its signature teapot shape, is sinking into the south-southwest horizon by 8 p.m. The handle is on top and the spout is touching the horizon ready to pour that last cup of tea.
Friday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Pisces the fish. Tonight’s other Moon is…. Wait a minute. The Earth has only one Moon. True. And it has always had only one Moon. Not necessarily true. According to the best existing model, about four billion years ago, a Mars-sized object collided with the young Earth. The resulting debris coalesced to form the Moon. However, this model left a mystery: why is the Moon so asymmetric? Hardened-lava lowlands dominate the near side while the far side is dominated by mountainous highlands. According to a recent revision of the prevailing model, the early collision formed a large Moon and a small Moon. Over the years, the small Moon caught up to and collided with the large Moon. The highlands are the material from the collided small Moon. For more information about this theory, go to http://goo.gl/O801zk.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Saturday: Since Halloween is later this month, the stores are filled with bags of candy clusters. Instead, take time to look at a star cluster. The Hyades cluster is an open star cluster that represents the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull. It is one of the biggest and nearest star clusters with about 200 stars 150 light years away. The Hyades cluster was the first cluster to be the subject of detailed motion studies. These studies allowed astronomers to pinpoint the distance to the Hyades and provide important information about the scale of the universe. Aldebaran, nearly two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 11 p.m., is a foreground star and not a part of the Hyades cluster.
Sunday: The Draconid meteor shower peaks for the next three nights. The meteors appear to come from a point in the head of Draco, the dragon constellation. This point is about five fists held upright and at arm’s above the northwest horizon at 10 p.m. tonight. This point remains near the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco throughout the night. Typically, this is a minor shower. However, Draconid meteors are slow moving which means you will have a easy time differentiating true Draconid meteors, from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, from stray grains of dust that happen to enter the Earth’s atmosphere near where we see the constellation Draco. The moon will set long before the nightly peak so there will be little natural light obscuring the dim meteors. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. For everything you need to know about the Draconid meteor shower, go to http://goo.gl/HGkw0w.
Monday: Can you see a planet during the day? Sure you can. Look around you at the Earth. But can you see a planet in the sky during the day? Yes, with the help of the moon. At 6 p.m., find the crescent moon one and a half fists above the southwest horizon. Then make a fist and hold it horizontal to the left of the moon. The planet Venus will be on the left side of your fist. If you wait less than an hour, the Sun will have set and you’ll definitely see Venus to the left of the moon and Saturn a little farther to the lower right.
Tuesday: The bright star Arcturus is a fist and a half above the west horizon at 8 p.m.
Wednesday: The constellation Vulpecula, the fox, stands high in the south at nightfall. It is in the middle of the Summer Triangle, which is defined by the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair. The fox is so faint that you need dark skies to see it.
Thursday: While you are resting after looking for Draconid meteors for two nights, start thinking about the Orionid meteor shower. This shower, which consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail, peaks on the morning of October 21 but produces meteors from now until early November. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about three fists above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second.
Friday: Tonight’s first quarter moon is in the constellation Sagittarius the archer.