Skywatch for the week of September 1, 2020
Mon Aug 31, 2020 EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
The science fantasy writer Edgar Rice Burroughs was born on September 1st, 1875. When Burroughs was just two years old, the planet earth passed Mars at a distance of 35 million miles, which gave astronomers a chance to view the red planet up close. In America, the US Naval Observatory Director, Asaph Hall used a 26 inch refracting telescope to discover the two moons of Mars; while in Italy, the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli made sketches of what he called “canali,” that he saw on the Martian surface. The Italian word, “canali,” means, “channel,” which Schiaparelli thought were natural features on Mars. But in America, the word got mistranslated to, “canals,” which are artificial. From that time on, a regular Mars mania swept the world, and in 1912, Burroughs’ novel, “Under the Moons of Mars,” launched his career. Besides his series about John Carter of Mars and other off-world adventures, Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan stories.
Tue Sep 1, 2020 SEPTEMBER FULL MOON
The moon is full tonight. You’ll find it rising out of the east as sunset gives way to twilight. Last week, the waxing gibbous moon passed both the planets Jupiter and Saturn as it moved eastward along its orbital path. Now, those two giant planets lie to the west of the moon; Saturn is closer, but Jupiter, to the right, is way brighter! September’s full moon is the Barley Moon of medieval England, or the Singing Moon in Scotland and Ireland. The Chinese call this the Chrysanthemum Moon, while in the Americas it is the Corn Moon. The Cherokee call it the Black Butterfly Moon or the Nut Moon. Similarly it is the Little Chestnut Moon of the Creek and the Seminole people. It is the Drying Grass Moon of the Arapaho and the Cheyenne people, and the Choctaw Indian’s Courting Moon. While the Comanche say it is the Paper Man Moon, the Mohawk call September’s Full Moon the Time of Poverty. To the Omaha Indians it is the Moon When the Deer Paw the Earth while the Sioux say it is the Moon When Calves Grow Hair.
Wed Sep 2, 2020 PIONEER 11
In September 1979, Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to travel past Saturn. It was launched in 1973, and took over 6 years to cross the billion-mile gap between Earth and Saturn. Along the way Pioneer 11 shot past Jupiter, and used the giant planet's gravity to accelerate – sort of a cosmic version of “crack the whip”. It also almost got its circuits fried by intense electromagnetic radiation that surrounds the giant planets. And Pioneer 11 was first to see Saturn's twisted, outermost F ring. If you’d like to take a look at Saturn and Jupiter tonight, you’ll find them in the southern sky after sunset. Jupiter is the very bright star-like object due south, while Saturn is the dimmer star to the east, that’s to the left, of Jupiter. Even small telescopes can reveal Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings, but of course, even though Pioneer 11 is in that same general area of the sky, you can’t see it, even with the most powerful telescope on earth. It’s over 10 billion miles out, in the great beyond.
Thu Sep 3, 2020 INTERSTELLAR VS. INTERGALACTIC
I like science fiction movies, but often the science is bad. It’s often when they talk about how far away things are. Distances started out small; in the 1950’s classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klatuu, an alien, says he traveled 200 million miles. Well, that one’s easy, it can only be Mars. Klaatu says he represents a great many civilizations from other stars in our galaxy. Now the correct term for this is “interstellar,” literally, “between the stars.” But what bad science fiction movies often say is “intergalactic,” meaning, “between galaxies.” And the aliens say things like, “We traveled hundreds of light years from another galaxy so that we could take all your chocolate.” But hundreds of light years still puts you inside our own Milky Way, which is simply immense, 100,000 light years across. To come from another galaxy would be to travel a distance of millions of light years. So let’s forget “intergalactic,” and bring back good old, “interstellar.” And maybe we should hide the chocolate too, just in case.
Fri Sep 4, 2020 ORION MISSING
The constellation of Orion the Hunter has been absent from our evening skies for a couple of months. If you want to find him tonight, you’ll have to go out long after midnight. He rises out of the east around 3 am, and climbs up into the southeastern sky as dawn approaches. If you’d rather see Orion during the evening hours, then you’ll have to wait until October, and even then it won’t be right after sunset, but in the late evening. As the year and the seasons progress, the earth’s revolution carries us around the sun: stars behind the sun cannot be seen until the earth takes us a little farther along the orbital path, which changes the sun’s position against the background of stars. This summer’s evening skies feature such constellations as Libra the scales, Scorpius the Scorpion, Sagittarius the Archer, Hercules, one of the ancient world’s greatest heroes, Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan.