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Skywatch Week of March 18, 2019


 Mon Mar 18, 2019            WILLIAM CHALONER – EXECUTED BY NEWTON

On March 16th in the year 1699 William Chaloner was executed at Tyburn Tree in London. Before his gruesome death, he wrote a letter to Sir Isaac Newton, begging for his life. “O dear sir, no body can save me but you,” he wrote, “I shall be murdered unless you save me.” Newton, England’s greatest scientist, had recently become the warden of the mint, and was responsible for the coining of English currency. This included catching anyone who committed the high treason of counterfeiting. Chaloner had sent a pamphlet to Parliament, accusing Newton of incompetence and corruption. This did not please Newton, and he set out to catch the great counterfeiter. Like a 17th century Sherlock Holmes, Sir Isaac used informers and even went about in disguise to find out what Chaloner was up to. In this way, the man who gave us the laws of gravity and motion was able to gather enough evidence to send Chaloner to the gallows.


Tue Mar 19, 2019                              DIRT ON THE MOON

Dirt on the moon has a fancy name, it’s called regolith. Where’d all this dirt come from? Now, dirt on the earth makes sense: we have a lot of weather and surface erosion, due to the action of wind, water, ice, and so on. But there’s no air on the moon, so how come there’s dirt? Here’s a clue: you’ll never see a meteor in the moon’s skies, or while standing on an asteroid. That’s because there’s no atmosphere. Because there’s no air, there’s nothing to stop tiny bits of dust, (and believe me, outer space is littered with dust!) traveling through outer space at a hundred thousand miles an hour or faster, to hit the moon and the asteroids and pulverize their surfaces. It’s like a very subtle form of sandblasting – lots of micrometeorite bombardments that earth doesn’t experience, thanks to our atmosphere, which simply makes the dust vaporize high up, lighting up the sky where they become shooting stars.


Wed Mar 20, 2019                            SPRING BEGINS

The vernal equinox is today – that’s the fancy term for the beginning of spring. On Wednesday, March 20th, at 5:58 p.m., Eastern Daylight Saving Time, the sun will appear at the top of the sky as seen from the earth’s equator. You'd think seasons would start first thing in the morning, but it seldom works out that way. Astronomers plot the sun's position in the sky as it drifts past the background of distant stars due to earth’s revolution. When it reaches a certain spot where the sun's direct rays touch upon the earth's equator, they know that spring has begun. Today the sun is in the constellation Pisces, and it rises due east and sets due west; this is also one of the two times in the year when people pretty much all around the world have roughly equal amounts of daylight and darkness – about twelve hours each. The term equinox, from the Latin meaning "equal night", reflects this phenomenon.


Thu Mar 21, 2019                              MARCH FULL MOON     

The moon is full. To colonial Americans, March’s full moon was called the sap moon, a time when the sap of the maple tree was tapped and sugared down for its syrup. They also called it the crow moon, the Chaste moon or the Lenten moon - named for the Christian season of Lent. The Celts call this the Big Winds moon, same as the Choctaw Indians. To the Algonquin Indians it is either the catching fish moon or the crust moon, because frequent thawing and refreezing of snow on the ground formed an icy crust. It’s called the worm moon by the Panamint Indians of California, in honor of the inchworm who according to legend, used the light of the full moon to climb to the mountaintop and rescue the sons of Chief Father of Two Boys Born in One Day. To the San Juan peoples it is the lizard moon; to the Omaha, it’s the Little Frog Moon. But the Sioux and the Arapaho call this the moon when the buffalo cows drop their calves.


Fri Mar 22, 2019               


Tonight’s sky features constellations such as Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, and the Greater and Lesser Dogs, as well as Leo, Ursa Major, Bootes and Virgo. Native American Indians had different names for these star patterns. Orion the Hunter was called Long Sash by the Tewa Pueblo Indians of the American southwest. The bright stars of Gemini - Castor and Pollux, were his place of decision, which led to the long journey up into the sky country. The Pleiades star cluster in Taurus, was the headdress of Long Sash. However the Aztecs called them “Tianquiztli,” the “little eyes in the sky.” The bright star Arcturus in Bootes was a constellation all by itself, the hero Waupee of the Shawnee tribe. But the Great Bear, Ursa Major, the most distinctive part of which we recognize as the Big Dipper today, was also seen by the Senecas and other members of the Iroquois nation as a great bear, Nyah-gwaheh, although with a short tail, unlike that of Greek mythology.