Skywatch for the week of April 5, 2021
Mon Apr 5, 2021 SEASONAL CONSTELLATIONS
We are now a couple of weeks into the new season, and spring has definitely sprung. The weather change this far south is subtle - a few new fragrances in the air, new growth, and of course, all that pollen. But the change of seasons has also brought a change in the constellations. Orion the Hunter and his entourage - Taurus the Bull, the greater and lesser dogs, Lepus the Hare, Auriga the Charioteer and the Gemini twins – have slipped over into the western sky; while new star groups rise out of the east. The stars of Leo the Lion appear as a backwards question mark above the eastern horizon, while the Big Dipper stands on its handle in the northeast after dusk; and soon bright Arcturus in Boötes the Shepherd and the star Spica in Virgo the Maiden will rise. The sky wheels about us, and the springtime constellations take their places in the heavens.
Tue Apr 6, 2021 NAME THAT PLANET 2
Let’s play “name that planet.” I’ll give you the names of some of the features found on a particular planet, and you try to identify it. The first planet has features like Maxwell Mountain, Cleopatra, Amelia Earhart, Sacajawea, and Mead, plus two continent-sized land masses named Ishtar and Aphrodite. The planet is Venus, and its features are typically named after love goddesses or famous women in history. Now try, Tombaugh, Norgay Mountains, the Sputnik plains, Sleipnir, Tartarus, Balrog and Cthulhu. That would be Pluto. How about the plains of Utopia, Chryse and Amazonis, or the Hellas basin, the Tharsis bulge, the Argyre basin, the Mariner Valley or Mount Olympus? That’s Mars. Where do you find the Caloris basin, or craters named Lovecraft, Bach, Beethoven, Velazquez, Brahms, Cervantes, Chopin, Tolkien, van Gogh, Shakespeare or Mozart? These names of artists, musicians and writers can be found on Mercury.
Wed Apr 7, 2021 MAGNIFYING POWER
The most frequently asked question about telescopes is, "What power is it?" meaning, how much can it magnify whatever it is you're looking at. This is a great selling point for most department store telescopes, which brag about 600 power viewing. Be wary. A telescope, like a microscope, can have a whole assortment of magnifying powers - all you have to do is change the eyepiece. It's the eyepiece that does the magnifying. Most small telescopes should never be taken over 100 to 200 power - the image gets too dim and fuzzy. The telescope’s big lens or mirror has a different purpose. It is trying to gather as much light as it can. The wider the ‘scope’s mirror or lens, the more light it can gather, which yields a brighter image which can then be magnified more. A lens or mirror that’s four inches across works up to about 200 power, while a 6 inch ‘scope can be pushed to 300 power under good seeing conditions.
Thur Apr 8, 2021 THE NATURE OF ASTRONOMY
The universe holds great mysteries, some of which we may one day solve, and others which might forever elude us. It’s remarkable that we’ve been able to learn as much as we have, given that the astronomer cannot touch the objects being studied. In other sciences, hands-on experiments can show us how things work. Biologists study life directly, either in the field or the laboratory. Geologists can break apart the rocks and analyze their minerals. Chemists can pour chemicals together, and if the result doesn’t destroy the lab, observe the chemical reactions. But in astronomy, no one can weigh a planet by putting it on a scale; we cannot determine how the sun will behave by making it run through a maze; we cannot touch the stars. All that we know about astronomy, save for a scattering of moon rocks and meteorites, and the earth itself, has been discovered by carefully observing those distant lights in the sky.
Fri Apr 9, 2021 COUNT THE STARS
One of the most enjoyable things you can do is to go out on a clear dark night and count the stars in the sky. And it's a wonderful activity for the family too. Here are a few things you should do when you go out: Always protect yourself against mosquitoes and other nocturnal hazards. Find a place that's away from bright lights such as streetlights or house lights, which can ruin your view. Take along a flashlight so you can see where you're going, and make sure it's okay for you to be where you are. Take along a jacket for warmth, and one of those lounge chairs that lean all the way back. When the stars shine out in clear skies, look for subtle colors of red, blue, white and yellow. Notice the different brightnesses. Connect the stars together into patterns for your own personal constellations. Then count the stars!