Skywatch for the week of February 22, 2021
Mon Feb 22, 2021 WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY
George Washington was born on February 11th in 1731. He was also born over a year later, on February 22nd, 1732. If there were a calendar over Washington’s cradle it would have said the date was February 11th, 1731. But of course that was the old Julian calendar that was introduced to the world back in 46 BC, by the decree of Julius Caesar. In 1582, Pope Gregory replaced it with the Gregorian calendar, because after fifteen hundred years of reckoning time, the Julian calendar had slipped by ten days. But since the English colony of Virginia was Protestant, they kept the old style calendar until 1752, until everything was off by eleven days, so they decided to cut those days out of the calendar while also changing the new year’s beginning from the month of March back to January, thus shifting Washington’s birthday to February 22nd, which was fine with him. And of course now, Congress says it was last Monday, the third Monday in February. OK.
Tue Feb 23 2021 HOLST’S “THE PLANETS”
On February 27th, in the year 1919, Gustav Holst's suite, "The Planets," was first publicly performed: it featured theme music for seven planets of the solar system (Pluto wasn’t included as it wouldn’t be discovered for another 11 years.) And Holst was certainly no astronomer – his knowledge of the subject was limited. Holst did dabble in mythology, and in writing the music for “The Planets,” he anthropomorphized them. That is, he gave these worlds human characteristics. So the music for Mercury, which takes only 88 days to go around the sun, is a lively, fast-paced vivace tempo, as would befit the Olympian messenger of the gods. On the other hand the music for Saturn, which revolves about the sun only once every 29 years, is adagio, or slow and stately. Mars is allegro, a loud, militant march, while Venus is a beautiful adagio-andante-animato, and Jupiter, the king of planets, is a majestic allegro giocoso!
Wed Feb 24 2021 THE PLEIADES
If you look high up in the western sky this evening, - say around 8 PM - you’ll find a small but distinctive grouping of stars known as the Seven Sisters. Even with lots of street lights around, you can still find them, although the serious light pollution problems we experience here reduces the Seven Sisters down to just two or three, or possibly they may look like a little smudge overhead. But if you can get away from the bright lights, out in the country, or on a dark Atlantic Beach, you’ll see between six to eight stars here, arranged in a very tiny dipper shape. In mythology, the Seven Sisters were the Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas, on whose shoulders the world rested. The brightest stars are Alcyone, Merope, Electra, Asterope, Maia, Taygeta and Celaeno, plus their parents, Atlas and Pleione – but there are many more fainter ones. Binoculars will reveal over a dozen stars, and astronomers have counted thousands of stars in this open cluster.
Thu Feb 25 2021 JOCELYN FINDS A RADIO STAR
In 1967, Jocelyn Bell, then a graduate student at England’s Cambridge University, made an incredible discovery: while going over the data from a radio telescope she’d help build, Bell found a rapidly recurring signal, which spiked every 1.3 seconds. Bell had found the very first pulsar, although the source of the signals was not known at the time (Bell and her advisor dubbed them “L.G.M.”s, light-heartedly suggesting they could be signals from an alien civilization consisting of “Little Green Men.”) Her work was announced on February 24, 1968 and her advisor was soon awarded a Nobel prize (Wait, what?) But in 2018, decades after the discovery, Bell finally received her Nobel, in the category of Fundamental Physics. In the meantime, the American astronomer Dr. Thomas Gold identified the mystery objects as pulsing stars, or pulsars - the compact cores of dying neutron stars.
Fri Feb 26 2021 FEBRUARY FULL MOON
The moon is full this weekend. The Celts called the full moon of February the “Moon of Ice,” well-named I’d say. To the Algonquin Indians of North America, this is the Hunger Moon; it appeared at a time of year when, deep in the cold of winter, food was scarce. Other names for this moon include the Kutenai Indians’ Black Bear Moon, or the Sioux Indians’ Raccoon Moon. The San Ildefonso peoples call this the Wind Moon, while to the Winnebago tribes it is the Fish-Running Moon. The Tewa Pueblos knew this as the Moon of Cedar Dust Wind, while the San Juan Indians call this, Moon When the Coyotes are Frightened. Tonight’s full moon is within the borders of the constellation Leo the Lion, right above its brightest star, Regulus, which marks the lion’s heart. Regulus is bright, but the full moon is much brighter, making it difficult to see Regulus!