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Skywatch for the week of November 15, 2021

Skywatch 11-15-2021.mp3


William Herschel was born on November 15th, 1738. Herschel was a church organist in Bath, England. He also had a great interest in astronomy, and in telescopes. But most musicians don’t make much money, and telescopes were expensive. So he built his own. It was with just such a telescope that in March of 1781, William Herschel saw what he first thought to be a comet far out in space. After its orbit was checked, it was clear that the object was a planet. Herschel named it George, after the King of England. Many astronomers suggested the planet simply be called, Herschel. Eventually Uranus, who in mythology was the father of Saturn, was chosen. Herschel also found four moons: Oberon and Titania, which orbit Uranus, and Mimas and Enceladus, which orbit Saturn. And Herschel mapped the stars of the Milky Way, concluding from their distribution that the galaxy in which we live was shaped like a giant disc.

Skywatch 11-16-2021.mp3

Tue Nov 16, 2021 LEONIDS

The Leonid meteor shower reaches peak activity over the next couple of nights. The Leonids, so-called because these meteors seem to come from the direction of the constellation Leo the Lion, have been in a bit of a decline lately, but they’re still worth staying up for. As a rule, meteor showers are best after midnight, but this year we’re only a couple of days away from full moon, and its bright light will spoil the display of shooting stars. The moon won’t set until an hour or so before dawn, so catch the Leonids at the end of the night. Protect yourself against mosquitoes, dress warmly, take along a lounge chair for comfort, find a clear, dark sky and face east, looking up toward the zenith. You should be able to see several meteors an hour, but there can be stretches of ten or fifteen minutes sometimes, when nothing happens. So take this time to look at the stars, and see if you can find that famous constellation Orion the Hunter, which will be high in the south before sunrise.

Skywatch 11-17-2021.mp3

Wed Nov 17, 2021 MESSIER’S FALL – November 6, 1781

On this day in the year 1781 – that’s 240 years ago – the French astronomer Charles Messier lay bed-ridden after a very bad fall down a flight of stairs. It would take him a year to recover. Messier discovered over a dozen comets in his career, so many that King Louis the 15th dubbed him, “the comet ferret.” How’d you like to have that on your resume’? Messier also made up a list of about a hundred fuzzy objects – we call them Messier objects, or M objects. These were things he saw in his telescope that turned out not to be comets at all, but star clusters like M13 in Hercules, or nebulas like M42 in Orion, or galaxies like M31 in Andromeda or the Whirlpool, M51! Messier managed to survive the French revolution and subsequent reign of terror, although he lost his house and his money. Still, he was alive. Napoleon awarded him the Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1806, and he lived to the ripe old age of 87.

Skywatch 11-18-2021.mp3


The moon is full today. November’s full moon is called the Dark Moon by the Celts, 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. It’s the Frost Moon for the Seminole people, and to the Tewa Pueblo this is the Moon When All is Gathered In - the late harvesting moon. Tonight, or I should say, tomorrow morning at 2:19 am, there will be a lunar eclipse, which will continue on until dawn. The Treasure Coast Astronomical Society and the IRSC student astronomy club and I will be setting up telescopes in the Planetarium’s parking lot on the Fort Pierce IRSC campus at 2 am tomorrow, and the public is welcome to join us. At 2 in the morning. I asked for an early time, but this is what we have to work with. See you there?

Skywatch 11-19-2021.mp3


On Friday night – that’s later today – there will be a show at Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium. It’s called, “Saturn, Jewel of the Heavens,” and it highlights the remarkable discoveries made about the ringed planet. We fly above the planet, we sail below its rings, we pass its moons and even land on its largest one, Titan, the only other world we know of with a nitrogen atmosphere like earth’s – except that nitrogen is so cold that it also forms slush lakes that flow across Titan’s surface. One moon, Mimas, has an impact crater that makes it look a lot like the Death Star from Star Wars. Another moon, Hyperion, looks like an overbaked potato. Some very strange and exotic sights await those who come to this show. And, if skies are clear tonight, the Treasure Coast Astronomical Society will be on hand to provide guided views of Saturn in the real sky, weather permitting. Join us tonight or tomorrow afternoon - call the IRSC Box office at 462-4750 for tickets.