Skywatch for the week of November 11, 2019
Tue Nov 12, 2019 NOVEMBER FULL MOON The moon was full yesterday, and will still look nearly full tonight. November’s full moon is called the Dark Moon by the Celts, which recognizes the lengthening of the night as winter approaches. The Creek Indians call this the Moon When the Water is Black with Leaves, as in northern lands when leaves would drop from the trees and darken ponds and rivers. The Mandan Hidatsa people must have lived farther north, as this was their Moon When Rivers Freeze. It’s the Frost Moon for the Seminole people, and to the Tewa Pueblo this is the Moon When All is Gathered In - the late harvesting moon. It’s the Cherokee Trading Moon, and the Choctaw Sassafras Moon. But the Seneca Indians of western New York would call this the Beaver moon, in honor of Nöganyá’göh the beaver who, with the help of the fly Oshë’da’, drove off the always thirsty Oyëtani' the moose, thus saving the drinking water for the other animals.
Wed Nov 13, 2019 TYCHO’S COMET On November 13th, 1577, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe saw a comet in the sky; from this and later observations, he was able to show that comets exist far out in space (previously it was thought that they were created in the atmosphere.) Brahe used parallax to prove this. Hold your thumb up at arm's length, and look at it with first one eye, and then the other, and you'll see your thumb jump back and forth against the background. If you bring your thumb in closer, the parallax shift increases. Brahe did this with the comet, gathering position information from different places in Europe, and he discovered that its parallax was less than the moon's, therefore farther away. We haven’t had a bright comet appear in our sky since Comet Hale-Bopp, which a lot of people saw back in the spring of 1997. Comet appearances are a bit unpredictable, but we usually pick one up every ten years or so, and we’re definitely overdue!
Thu Nov 14, 2019 WILLIAM HERSCHEL BORN William Herschel was born on November 15th, 1738. Herschel was a church organist in Bath, England. He also had a great interest in astronomy, and in telescopes. But most musicians don’t make much money. And telescopes were expensive. So he built his own. It was with just such a telescope that in March of 1781, William Herschel saw what he first thought to be a comet far out in space. After its orbit was checked, it was clear that the object was a planet. Herschel named it George, after the King of England. Many astronomers suggested the planet simply be called, Herschel. Eventually Uranus, who in mythology was the father of Saturn, was chosen. Herschel also found four moons: Oberon and Titania, which orbit Uranus, and Mimas and Enceladus, which orbit Saturn. And Herschel mapped the stars of the Milky Way, concluding from their distribution that the galaxy in which we live was shaped like a giant disc.
Fri Nov 15, 2019 LEONIDS The Leonid meteor shower reaches peak activity this weekend. The Leonids, so-called because these meteors seem to come from the direction of the constellation Leo the Lion, have been in a bit of a decline lately, but they’re still worth staying up for. As a rule, meteor showers are best between midnight and dawn, but that’s the same time when our waning gibbous moon will be up, so catch the Leonids in the evening hours, before the moon rises. Protect yourself against mosquitoes, dress warmly, take along a lounge chair for comfort, find a clear, dark sky and face east, looking up toward the zenith. You should be able to see several meteors an hour, but there can be stretches of ten or fifteen minutes sometimes, when nothing happens. So take this time to look at the stars, and see if you can find that famous constellation Orion the Hunter, which will rise in the late evening.