Skywatch for the week of August 16, 2021
Mon Aug 16, 2021 SCORPIUS – MAUI’S FISHOOK
This evening the moon, a little past its first quarter phase, can be found near the red giant star Antares, the heart of the constellation Scorpius in the southern sky. Scorpius is one of the few constellations that looks like it should, outlining a scorpion from Greek myth. But to folks in the South Pacific, Scorpius was known as Maui’s fishhook. Maui and his brothers were far out at sea, when Maui’s fishing line suddenly went taut. He urged his brothers to row as hard as they could, and with all his strength, attempted to lift the mighty fish out of the ocean. But it wasn’t a fish; Maui had snagged the sea bottom. He pulled so hard that he brought the ocean floor up to the surface where it became the island of Hawaii. The great fishhook itself flew up into the sky, where everyone can see it tonight, a cosmic reminder of the big one that got away.
Tue Aug 17, 2021 EGYPTIAN CONSTELLATIONS
Many of our modern constellations were also recognized by ancient Egyptians, but there were also distinct star patterns which were theirs alone. The Big Dipper, part of the larger constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, was seen by the Egyptians as the leg of a great bull, a dismembered piece of the god Set. The star Polaris in the Little Dipper represented the coffin of Osiris, that diabolical death-trap that was created by his brother Set for the express purpose of killing Osiris. The rest of the Little Dipper was sometimes a scorpion, sometimes a jackal, the “dark and loathsome creature of Set.” Between the dippers is the long, straggling constellation of Draco the Dragon, which hearkens back to Babylonia, where he was the frightful Tiamat of Chaldea, whose body was divided to make heaven and earth. But to the pharaohs of Egypt these stars also represented Taweret the Hippopotamus and Sobek the Alligator.
Wed Aug 18, 2021 HELIUM DISCOVERED; SOLAR SAFETY
On August 18, 1868, a new element was discovered – and it was found in the sun! During a total solar eclipse, astronomer Pierre Janssen used a spectroscope to break up visible light into its component colors, kind of like a prism, but with much more detail. In the sun’s spectrum he saw a series of dark absorption lines that had never been seen before. Janssen had found a new element. It was named after Helios, the Greek sun god. That’s right, helium was discovered in the sun before it was ever found on earth, which makes sense, as helium is so light that unless it’s trapped underground or contained in a balloon, it leaks out through the atmosphere into space! A word of caution: don’t stare at the sun as it can blind you. Only with proper solar filters, or during the brief moments of totality of a solar eclipse is it safe to view the sun; and if you never leave the United States, you won’t see a total eclipse until the year 2024.
Thu Aug 19, 2021 SUN FACTS
It’s at this time of year that I really understand the power of the sun. The heat just doesn’t let up in Florida, due to our more southerly latitude and the sun’s higher placement in the sky. And it’s no wonder. The sun’s diameter is about 865,000 miles. That’s over a hundred times the diameter of the Earth. And in terms of volume, a million Earths could fit inside it. The Sun's mass is 333,434 times the mass of our planet. In fact the sun contains 99.86% of the mass of the entire solar system! Its surface temperature is over 10 thousand degrees Fahrenheit, while its core temperature is 27 million degrees! The thermonuclear fusion processes that take place there, as hydrogen is converted into helium, supply us with pretty much all of our light and energy. So even though we’re 93 million miles away from the sun, it’s big enough, and hot enough, to keep things sizzling here in sunny Florida.
Fri Aug 20, 2021 AUGUST FULL MOON
The moon will be full this weekend. Tonight, you’ll find it in the constellation Capricornus, along with the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Colonial Americans knew this as the Dog Days moon; ancient Celts called it the Dispute Moon. The Sioux Indians say that this is the Moon When the Geese Shed Their Feathers. The Ottawa tribes know it as the Sturgeon Moon, named for the misty moon-bow made by that fish when it leaps from the stream. The Ponca call it the Corn is in the Silk Moon, meaning it's a good time to harvest the corn; other tribes have similar names, such as the Big Ripening Moon of the Creek and Seminole Indians or the even more simply named Corn Moon of the Zuni. The Choctaw refer to this as Women’s Moon, and it’s true that the moon’s features suggest to many the profile of a woman’s head – the lady in the moon. To the Cherokee, though, this is the Drying Up Moon, appropriate after a long hot spell of summer weather.