Skywatch for the week of mAY 11,2020
Tue May 12, 2020 WAUPEE AND SHENANDOAH The bright star Arcturus which we see in the eastern evening sky was known to the Algonquin Indians as Waupee, or the White Hawk. One day, in a clearing in a great forest, Waupee heard the faint sound of music from the sky. He looked up and saw, much to his surprise, a magical basket descending from above. In the basket were 12 sisters. When the basket reached earth the heavenly sisters leaped out, and linking hands, began to dance in a circle. White Hawk fell in love with the youngest sister and they became husband and wife. But she was Shenandoah, which means "daughter of the stars." And she longed to return to her father in the sky. The day came when Waupee and Shenandoah took their young son up into the sky country, where they became white hawks. And nearby Arcturus you may still see the sisters’ magic basket, a faint circlet of stars which forms the constellation of the Northern Crown - Corona Borealis.
Wed May 13, 2020 ASTRO QUIZ 1 Here’s a small astronomy quiz for you to puzzle over: What’s the closest planet to the sun? What do we call the brightest stars in the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, which is overhead in our sky this evening? Which is bigger – a galaxy or a solar system? What did Clyde Tombaugh discover? Here are the answers. The planet Mercury is closest to our sun, at a mere 36 million miles. Seven stars form the back and the tail of the Great Bear, but we know them better as the Big Dipper, upside down in our northern sky tonight. Solar systems are typically billions of miles in diameter, but galaxies are hundreds of trillions of miles across – much bigger, and what’s more, galaxies contain hundreds of billions of solar systems. Lastly, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Planet X, back in 1930 when he was just 24 years old. It was later named, Pluto. Can I still call it a planet? Guess so.
Thu May 14, 2020 ARCTURUS THE INTERLOPER Halfway up in the eastern sky this evening there is a star that doesn’t belong here – an interloper. It’s Arcturus, the fourth brightest star in our night sky, and it’s a visitor from beyond the galactic disc. Arcturus is an old red giant, and while most of the stars you see up there are moving along with our sun, traveling in nearly circular orbits about the hub of our Milky Way galaxy, Arcturus moves at a sharp angle to all the others. Our sun and planets are embedded within the Milky Way’s disc, and our orbit carries us along in the plane of the disc as we revolve. But Arcturus is plunging along an elliptical path through the disc from up above. Tonight, it’s a mere 37 light years away, that’s a bit more than 200 trillion miles, but in a half million years or so it will have shot down below us, and its ever increasing distance will make it too dim to see without a telescope. So enjoy viewing Arcturus while it’s still in the neighborhood!
Fri May 15, 2020 HYDRA The ancient constellation called Hydra has the distinction of being the longest and largest of all the star-figures in the heavens. In Greek myth, it was the Lernean Hydra, a great multi-headed swamp monster destroyed by the hero Hercules as his second labor. The hydra could re-grow any head that was cut off, so Hercules had his nephew Aeolus cauterize each neck stump with the heat of a burning log – that way, the head could not come back. Often in art and movies, you’ll see Hercules holding a club – that’s the one they used on Hydra! After sunset tonight, this elongated swamp serpent stretches across nearly the entire sky from west to east, midway up in the south, lying beneath the zodiacal constellations of Cancer, Leo, Virgo and Libra. Although it takes up the most space in the heavens, the constellation of Hydra contains only one fairly bright star, and that is Alphard, an Arabic word which means, “the solitary one.” Alphard lies below the constellation Leo and marks the monster’s heart.