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Skywatch for the week of November 8, 2021

Skywatch 11-8-2021.mp3


Can you identify the 15th largest constellation? It is bordered on the north by Scutum, Aquila and Serpens Cauda, on the south by Telescopium and the Southern Crown, on the west by Scorpius and Ophiuchus, and on the east by Microscopium and Capricornus. The center of the galaxy lies in the direction of its western border, and it contains many star clusters as well as the Trifid and the Lagoon Nebulae. This constellation has no first magnitude stars, but a handful of 2nd magnitude stars trace out the crude shape of a teapot. In Greek myth it represented Chiron, a centaur who taught Hercules and even now, protects the other constellations by keeping Scorpius at bay with his bow and arrow. This evening the moon and the planet Venus shine together above the teapot’s lid and spout. Can you name this star figure, the ninth constellation of the zodiac? The answer is Sagittarius the Archer.

Skywatch 11-9-2021.mp3


Edmund Halley, the astronomer, mathematician and scientist was born on November 8th, 1656 near London. Now on the day of his birth, the calendar over his bed would have read October 29th, but when England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, eleven days were lost and his birth-date was changed over to November 8th. Halley himself had died ten years before this conversion, but then again he also missed seeing the comet (that was named for him) return in late December of 1758. Halley had seen it in 1682, and after pestering Isaac Newton to write the equations he needed to solve the comet’s orbit and predict its return, he said he hoped that posterity would record that an Englishman had made the prediction. Incidentally, if you missed seeing the last appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1986, then you’ll want to hang around for its next apparition in the year 2061. I’ll be 108, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Skywatch 11-10-2021.mp3


Indian River State College recently held a “brain bowl” for its students, who compete to answer questions on music, art, literature, history, geography, philosophy, math and science. In honor of the brain bowl, here’s a quiz for you: Where is the Sea of Serenity? What is Newton’s Third Law of Motion? What’s the tallest volcano in the solar system? Which star is closest to earth? What is New Horizons? Here are the answers: The Sea of Serenity is a dry lava basin on the moon. Newton’s Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The tallest volcano is fifteen-mile-high Mt. Olympus on Mars. The nearest star after the sun is Proxima, part of the Alpha Centauri system, 25 trillion miles away. And New Horizons is a spacecraft that was launched toward Pluto; it reached this distant world six years ago and sent back incredible images of Pluto and its moons.

Skywatch 11-11-2021.mp3

Thu Nov 11, 2021 THE CELESTIAL SEA

Tonight the first quarter moon shines out from among the stars of the constellation Capricorns the Sea Goat. Along with it are the planets Jupiter and Saturn: Jupiter is the bright, star-like object above the moon, and Saturn is a yellow tinged “star” to the moon’s right. All three of these celestial objects are in a part of the sky called, “the celestial sea.” Besides Capricornus, there’s Aquarius, whose mythical water jug spilled out into this region of the heavens. East of Aquarius is Pisces the Fish. There’s also a dolphin, named Delphinus, above Capricornus, and still another southern fish, Piscis Austrinus, low in the south. And there’s a sea monster, Cetus, actually a great whale. The sea is capped off to the north by the constellation Pegasus, the Flying Horse, who according to myth was born out of the sea. To the west of Pegasus is Equuleus the Colt, often depicted as a seahorse. At this rainy time of the year, the Celestial Sea is aptly named.

Skywatch 11-12-2021.mp3

Fri Nov 12, 2021 TYCHO’S COMET

On November 13th, 1577, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe saw a comet in the sky; from this and later observations, he was able to show that comets exist far out in space (previously it was thought that they were created in the atmosphere.) Brahe used parallax to prove this. Hold your thumb up at arm's length, and look at it with first one eye, and then the other, and you'll see your thumb jump back and forth against the background. If you bring your thumb in closer, the parallax shift increases. Brahe did this with the comet, gathering position information from different places in Europe, and he discovered that its parallax was less than the moon's, therefore farther away. We haven’t had a bright comet appear in our sky since Comet Hale-Bopp, which a lot of people saw back in the spring of 1997. Comet appearances are a bit unpredictable, but we usually pick one up every ten years or so, and we’re definitely overdue!