Skywatch for the week of April 11, 2022
Mon Apr 11, 2022 FALLING INTO THE NEAREST BLACK HOLE
What happens if you fall into a black hole? Well, it would be bad: if you jumped in, your feet would be pulled with a lot more force than your head. You would be stretched out as thin as a piece of spaghetti, which of course is not a natural state for the human body to be in, and you would disintegrate, your atoms eventually spiraling into the black hole. Are you likely to fall into a black hole? The nearest known black hole we know of is just to the east of Orion the Hunter, in our western sky this evening, in a constellation known as Monoceros the Unicorn. It is here where we find V616 Monocerotis. This black hole is about 3,000 light years away, or 18,000 trillion miles. So even the nearest black hole is so far away that nobody is in any danger of falling in!
Tue Apr 12, 2022 YURI GAGARIN
On April 12th, 1961, the first human was launched into space. It wasn’t John Glenn, he was the first American to orbit the earth in a Mercury spacecraft. It wasn’t Neil Armstrong, he and Buzz Aldrin were the first astronauts to land on the moon. It wasn’t Alan Shepard. He was the first American to go into outer space, but that happened almost a month after the first man orbited the earth. Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, was first. It was a smooth launch and orbit, but the way Gagarin came back to earth was scary. His Vostok spacecraft didn’t have enough parachutes to slow it down without leaving a small crater, so several miles up, Gagarin was ejected from the capsule, and then had to parachute down to the ground all on his own – now that’s exciting!
Wed Apr 13, 2022 LEVIATHAN MIRROR
On April 13, 1842, the mirror for the Irish Leviathan was completed. It was six feet across, and was built by William Parsons in Ireland. It was a metal mirror, an alloy of copper and tin. Installed in the fifty-six-foot-long telescope tube, it became the Irish Leviathan, and for the next seventy years, it was the biggest telescope on earth. Parsons observed stars, the moon, and the planet Jupiter. Then the potato famine hit Ireland, and it was shut down. But in 1845, Leviathan was running again and Parsons observed M51, a large nebula in the constellation Canes Venatici. He called it the Whirlpool, describing it as a "spiral nebula". Parsons even saw individual stars in the Whirlpool, and thought that it was a distant galaxy, similar to our own Milky Way. He was right.
Thu Apr 14, 2022 HOW THE BEARS GOT THEIR TAILS
The constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are in our northern sky tonight. Star charts depict these bears as having long tails, which bears don’t have. In an old myth, Zeus loved the maiden Callisto, but his wife, Hera, turned her into a bear. Now Callisto had a son named Arcus, who when he grew up, ran into his long-lost mother out in the forest. Fearing for his life, Arcus aimed an arrow at her, but Zeus kept him from killing her by turning him into a bear as well. To keep them safe, Zeus grabbed Arcus and Callisto by their short bear tails and dragged them up into the sky, where they became constellations. In the process, he stretched out their tails, which is why they’re so long. You may think that’s stretching a tale a bit, but these are the bear facts.
Fri Apr 15, 2022 FULL MOON OF APRIL
The first full moon since the beginning of spring occurs tomorrow, which, by an old formula, means that Easter will be this Sunday. The Seneca Indians recognize the full moon of April as the time of the strawberry dance, while the Mohawk know it as “Onerahtokha,” the budding time, which is similar to the Kiowa’s Leaf Moon, as this is the month when new leaves form on trees. The Cheyenne Indians speak of it as the Moon When the Geese Lay Eggs. To the Mandan Indians of North Dakota, it is simply the Planter’s Moon; it was under the light of this full moon that many people planted tobacco, potato,