Skywatch for the week of February 8, 2021
Mon Feb8, 2021 SPAGHETTIFICATION AND BLACK HOLES
What happens if you jump into a black hole? Well, the slight distance between your head and your feet is enough to create a gravitational dilemma: your feet would be pulled in with a lot more force than your head, which would stretch your body out as thin as a piece of spaghetti, which of course is not a natural state for the human body to be in, so you would disintegrate, and eventually all of your atoms would spiral into the black hole - so stay out of black holes! The nearest known black hole is near the constellation of Orion the Hunter, which dominates the southern evening sky. There’s a faint constellation to the east of Orion known as Monoceros the Unicorn, and it is here where we find the nearest known black hole, called, V616 Monocerotis. It’s about 3,000 light years away, or 18,000 trillion miles. So even the nearest black hole is so far away that nobody is in any danger of falling in!
Tues Feb 9, 2021 INTERSTELLAR VS. INTERGALACTIC
I like science fiction movies, but often the science is bad, like when they talk about how far away things are. Distances started out small; in the 1950’s classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klatuu, an alien, says he traveled 200 million miles. Well, that one’s easy, it can only be Mars. Klaatu says he represents a great many civilizations from other stars in our galaxy. Now the correct term for this is “interstellar,” literally, “between the stars.” But what bad science fiction movies often say is “intergalactic,” meaning, “between galaxies.” And the aliens say things like, “We traveled hundreds of light years from another galaxy so that we could take all your chocolate.” But hundreds of light years still puts you inside our own Milky Way, which is simply immense, 100,000 light years across. To come from another galaxy would be to travel a distance of millions of light years. So let’s forget “intergalactic,” and bring back good old, “interstellar.” And maybe we should hide the chocolate too, just in case.
Wed Feb 10, 2021 NAME THAT MOON
The moons of our solar system have many shared features, such as meteor impact craters, mountains, plains and valleys. See if you can identify the moon if I list some of those named features. This first moon has impact craters named Plato, Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Aristotle and Hevelius, plus great dark features like the Sea of Cold, the Bay of Rainbows, the Ocean of Storms and the Sea of Tranquility. This is easy, it’s the moon, our moon. What about El Dorado, Aztlan, Xanadu and Shangri-La? These features are found on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. This next moon has lots of volcanoes with names like Thor and Loki, Marduk, Maui and Pele. The moon is Io and it orbits Jupiter. And finally, try Kirk, Spock, Uhura, the plains of Vulcan, Nemo, Skywalker, Ripley, Vader crater, the Tardis chasm, and a dark feature at its north pole named Mordor? These are found on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.
Thurs Feb 11, 2021 EGYPTIAN CONSTELLATIONS
Many of the constellations we see now were also recognized by ancient Egyptians, but there were also many star patterns which were theirs alone. The Big Dipper, part of the larger constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, was seen by the Egyptians as the leg of a great bull, a dismembered piece of the god Set. At end of the handle of the Little Dipper, the star Polaris represented the coffin of Osiris, that diabolical death-trap, created by his brother Set for the express purpose of killing Osiris. The rest of the Little Dipper was sometimes a scorpion, or sometimes a jackal, the “dark and loathsome creature of Set.” Between the dippers is the long, straggling constellation of Draco the Dragon, seen in Babylonia as the frightful Tiamat, whose body was divided to make heaven and earth. But to the pharaohs of Egypt these stars also represented Taweret the Hippopotamus and Sobek the Alligator.
Fri Feb 12, 2021 THE STARS OF THE PHARAOHS
Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Great Pyramid of Khufu still stands. Like many old monuments, its four sides are aligned with the compass directions of North, South, East and West. Near the pyramid there is the statue of the Great Sphinx, a lion’s body with a woman’s face. It also faces toward the east, toward the rising sun. It is said that the sphinx represents the combined constellations of Leo the Lion and Virgo the Maiden. And the Great Pyramid, along with other pyramids nearby, align with the positions of the three stars in the belt of the Orion the Hunter, known to the Pharaohs as the mythical god Osiris. In ancient Egypt, the moon was called the left eye of Horus; his right eye was the sun. And three planets were identified with this son of Osiris. Mars was called Horus the Red; Jupiter was named Horus who Limits Two Lands; and Saturn was Horus the bull, not to be confused with the constellation Taurus the bull, to the east of Orion.