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Skywatch for the week of March 16, 2020

Tue Mar 17, 2020 SAINT PATRICK ASTRONOMY Now that it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, let’s talk about Irish astronomy as it was practiced in the time of the Saint. In the fifth century the Irish made accurate observations, using stone circles that, like the famous Stonehenge of England, could predict sunrise and sunset positions and the beginnings of seasons. The Julian calendar of Rome was used in Ireland, and the Church relied on Irish astronomy to help establish the dates of Easter and other religious feasts, as witnessed by the Sixth century abbot, Mo-Sinu maccu Min of County Down. In the Seventh Century the monk Aibhistin suggested a connection between the tides and the phases of the moon. And then there are the Celtic constellations: Leo the lion which appears in the east after sunset, was An Corran, a sickle or reaping hook. The Irish saw Orion the Hunter as the hero Caomai, the Armed King. And the Milky Way was called Bealach na Bo Finne - the way of the white cow.
Wed Mar 18, 2020 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. “O dear sir no body can save me but you O God my God I shall be murderd unless you save me O I hope God will move yor heart with mercy and pitty to do this thing for me…”
Thu Mar 19, 2020 SPRING BEGINS The vernal equinox is today – that’s the fancy term for the beginning of spring. On Thursday, March 19th, at 11:49 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.
Fri Mar 20, 2020 INDIAN STARS OF THE EARLY SPRING Tonight’s sky features constellations such as Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, and the Greater and Lesser Dogs, as well as Leo, Ursa Major, Boötes 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 Boötes 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