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Skywatch for the week of March 14, 2022

Skywatch Friday 3-14-2022.mp3


Nearly a hundred years ago, the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket was launched, by Robert Goddard, who invented it. Rockets had been around for a long time – the Chinese were using them eight hundred years ago. But all rockets up to March 16, 1926, were solid-fuel, using a kind of gunpowder as the propellant. The problem with those rockets was that once ignited, the rocket fuel continued to burn until it was used up – no off switch. With liquid fuel it was possible to start, stop, restart, throttle the engine up or down - in other words, liquid-fueled rockets were easier to control, and safer too. The New York Times back then said he was wrong, that rockets wouldn’t work in space. Evidently they were mistaken, because, thanks to Robert Goddard, we’ve sent rockets outward to the moon, to the planets, to the stars.

Skywatch Friday 3-15-2022.mp3


Today is the Ides of March, that is, March 15th. On this day in 44 BC Julius Caesar was assassinated, and we think of Shakespeare’s play, in which Caesar is warned to beware the Ides of March. What are the Ides? The Romans divided their calendar month into three parts, with three specific days serving as benchmarks, based on the phases of the moon. The first day of the month, marked by the new moon, was called the Kalends (from which we get the word calendar;) A week later the first quarter moon and the Nones; and the middle of the month, the 13th day or in some cases the 15th, when the moon was full - that was the Ides. These terms are not familiar to us today, but they were well-known to the Romans, and also to Europeans in Shakespeare’s time.

Skywatch Friday 3-16-2022.mp3


Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day, so let’s talk about Irish astronomy as it was practiced in the time of the Saint. In the fifth century the Irish made accurate observations, using stone circles that, like the famous Stonehenge of England, could predict sunrise and sunset positions and the beginnings of seasons. The Julian calendar of Rome was used in Ireland, and the Church relied on astronomy to help establish the dates of Easter and other religious feasts, as witnessed by the sixth century Irish monks. The monk Aibhistin suggested a connection between the tides and the phases of the moon. And then there are the Celtic constellations: Leo the lion which appears in the east after sunset, was An Corran, a sickle or reaping hook. The Irish saw Orion the Hunter as the hero Caomai, the Armed King. And the Milky Way was called Bealach na Bo Finne - the way of the white cow.

Skywatch Friday 3-17-2022.mp3

Thu Mar 17, 2022 MARCH FULL MOON

The moon is full tonight. To colonial Americans, March’s full moon was called the sap moon, a time when the sap of the maple tree was tapped and sugared down for its syrup. They also called it the crow moon, the Chaste moon or the Lenten moon - named for the Christian season of Lent. The Celts call this the Big Winds moon, same as the Choctaw Indians. To the Algonquin Indians it is the crust moon, because frequent thawing and refreezing of snow on the ground formed an icy crust. It’s called the worm moon by the Panamint Indians, in honor of the inchworm who according to legend, used the light of the full moon to climb to the mountaintop and rescue the sons of Chief Father of Two Boys Born in One Day. But the Sioux and the Arapaho call this the moon when the buffalo cows drop their calves.

Skywatch Friday 3-18-2022.mp3

Fri Mar 18, 2022 SPRING BEGINS

The vernal equinox will happen in a couple of days – that’s the fancy term for the beginning of spring. On Sunday, March 20th, at 11:33 a.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time, the sun will appear at the top of the sky as seen from the earth’s equator. Astronomers plot the sun's position in the sky as it drifts past the background of distant stars due to earth’s revolution. When it reaches the spot where the sun's direct rays touch upon the earth's equator, spring begins. Now the sun is in the constellation Pisces, and it rises due east and sets due west; this is also one of the two times in the year when people pretty much all around the world have roughly equal amounts of daylight and darkness – about twelve hours each. The term equinox, from the Latin meaning "equal night", reflects this phenomenon.