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Skywatch

Skywatch for the week of September 30 , 2019

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Tue Oct 1, 2019 NEW MOON SYNOD When I was in college, I tried out for one of the theater department’s plays – Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. I did not get the part I wanted, that of the Duke, which was kind of a shame since I had memorized his lines, part of which went something like this: “It hath in solemn synods been decreed…To admit no traffic to our adverse towns.” So then you have to ask yourself, what the heck is a solemn synod? For that matter what’s a synod, solemn or otherwise? It’s a meeting, usually a religious council, but also a civil meeting, that’s held at a set time, say during a new or a full moon. The synodic month holds a complete cycle of moon phases, 29½ days in length. The moon was new just a couple of days ago, and now it can be found low in the southwestern sky after sunset, a thin crescent within the borders of the constellation Libra the Scales. So this would mark the beginning of the month in the old lunar calendar, and as it turns out, it’s also a new month according to the solar calendar we use today.
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Wed Oct 2, 2019 PLACES IN THE SKY - OCTOBER Can you identify the thirty-third largest constellation? It is bordered on the north by Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, on the south by Lupus the Wolf, Norma the Level and Ara the Altar, on the west by Libra the Scales, and on the east by Sagittarius and the Southern Crown. Its tail dips into the Milky Way, and there are many nebulae and star clusters within its borders. This constellation’s brightest star is Antares, a red giant hundreds of times larger than the sun. In the South Pacific it’s called Maui’s fishhook, while old Greek myths identified it as the animal that killed the hero Orion the Hunter, but it is kept in check by Sagittarius’ arrows. Just a few thousand years ago the Romans turned its claws into Libra the Scales. Tonight the crescent moon rests above its head and the planet Jupiter can be found above its tail. Can you name this star figure, the eighth constellation of the zodiac? The answer is Scorpius, currently visible in the southern sky after sunset.
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Thu Oct 3, 2019 MOON AND JUPITER IN SCORPIUS Tonight, the waxing crescent moon and the planet Jupiter can be found among the stars of the constellation Scorpius. Both can be seen in early evening in the southern sky. The moon is just to the west and slightly above Jupiter, while below them is the star Antares, a red giant sun which marks the heart of the scorpion. An old poet named Aratus wrote, "tis said that when the Scorpion comes, Orion flees to the utmost ends of the earth." The reason he said this is because in mythology the scorpion was the mortal enemy of the hero Orion, who once boasted that no animal on earth could hurt him. Bragging like this invariably leads to disaster, and sure enough, a scorpion rose up from the ground and stung Orion on the heel. The dying hero was given new life as a constellation in the sky, but he still fears the scorpion, for whenever Scorpius rises out of the southeast, Orion ducks down below the western horizon, which is why you don’t see Orion in the sky this evening. Or so they said, long ago.
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Fri Oct 4, 2019 FIRST QUARTER MOON AND OPEN HOUSE This evening, the moon is a very fat crescent in the south. Tomorrow, October 5th, it will be at first quarter, when it will appear as a near-perfect half-circle. Half moons and quarter moons are the same thing, because while it looks like a half-a-moon, our satellite has completed the first quarter of its orbit around the earth. If you want to come on out to Indian River State College and the Hallstrom Planetarium in Fort Pierce tomorrow, we can show you the moon through telescopes, weather permitting of course. At 4 pm, I will present a talk in the Planetarium on upcoming sky events, and following the talk, members of the student astronomy club and also the community club, Treasure Coast Astronomical Society, will set up ‘scopes for viewing the moon, which is bright enough to be seen in the late afternoon sky. Stick around until dusk, and we’ll let you look at Jupiter and Saturn, too, no extra charge. Oh wait, it’s free. So, tomorrow, October 5, planetarium, we’ll see you there!