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Skywatch for the week of November 30, 2020

Skywatch 11-30-2020.mp3


The moon is full tonight. This is the Celtic Dark Moon, 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. 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 call this the Beaver moon, in honor of Jonito Amo’chk the beaver who, with the help of the fly, drove off the always thirsty Oyandon’e the moose, thus saving the drinking water for the other animals.

Skywatch 12-1--2020.mp3


You can spend lots of money buying a telescope and then be unhappy with the results. Before you buy one, ask yourself: what do you expect the telescope to do? If you want to see planets, nebulas and galaxies looking like they do in books and magazines, then you need the Hubble Space Telescope. We already have one of those, so you don’t have to buy another, just get the pictures, it’s a lot cheaper. Most small telescope views fall far short of the incredible images that we get from great observatories or space telescopes. So why buy a telescope? Well one of the principle joys of the telescope is the excitement of finding these objects in the sky, and knowing that they really are out there. A good starter telescope is a Newtonian reflector with a 6 inch mirror on a Dobsonian mount, which uses big one and a quarter inch eyepieces. Such a scope should cost between 200 – 400 dollars. Begin your research on the internet.

Skywatch 12-2--2020.mp3


In the year 1301, the Italian artist Giotto di Bondone saw a comet. It was bright and glorious, but it had no name; centuries later it would be called Halley’s comet, in honor of Edmond Halley, who calculated its regular return every 76 years. In 1305, Giotto painted a fresco called, “the Adoration of the Magi,” which can still be viewed in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. Above the Creche, Giotto painted Halley’s comet, portraying it as the nativity star. Could the comet have been the star? Most likely not. Halley’s Comet was visible in Judea, but in 12 BC – far too early for the nativity. Could another comet have been considered the star? Comets back then were seen as bad omens, warnings of the death of kings, famine, or other disaster. They would most likely not be thought of as heralds of a new king. We must look elsewhere to the skies.

Skywatch 12-3--2020.mp3


If you're telescope shopping and the salesman talks magnifying powers of several hundred, then it is a pretty safe bet he doesn't know much about telescopes - he is not an expert. You will have to put yourself in that position. Shop around. Big box stores and department stores are great places to buy a lot of things, but when I buy a telescope, I don’t go there. Yard sales often have telescopes, but there’s a good reason why they’re in a yard sale, and it’s probably that those particular ‘scopes are hard to operate. Look out for flimsy tripod legs or cheap aluminum and plastic bolt-and-wingnut attachments from the tripod to the tube. A good starter telescope is actually a pair of binoculars, which cost under a hundred dollars. If you mount them to a camera tripod you can aim them just like a regular telescope. Then consider getting a Newtonian reflector with a 6 inch mirror on a Dobsonian mount. Begin your research on the internet.

Skywatch 12-4--2020.mp3


Three of the brightest stars in our sky tonight are actually planets. Jupiter dominated our southern sky after sunset the last few months; now it and the planet Saturn are moving closer together in the southwest evening. Meanwhile, red planet Mars shine brightly in the eastern sky, another great target to view though a telescope. In the west are three real stars -- Vega, Altair and Deneb - which form the Summer Triangle. To the north is the constellation Cassiopeia, while high overhead are the four stars that outline the Great Square of Pegasus. Now face northeast and find the bright yellow star Capella, in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. To its right is the red-tinged star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus; while rising out of the east are the stars Rigel and Betelgeuse, plus the three stars in a row which mark the belt of Orion the Hunter.