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Skywatch for the week of April 18, 2022

Skywatch Monday 4-18-2022.mp3

Mon Apr 18, 2022 STARING AT THE SUN

The sun is too bright to look at, even with sunglasses. And yet it has been carefully studied since long before the invention of the telescope and safe protective filters. The ancient Greeks observed and described large sunspots, at least 40,000 miles across, that sometimes appeared on its face. They did this by watching the sun only during sunrise or sunset when it was dim and red. And on a misty day in the year 1612 in Bavaria, the Jesuit astronomer Father Scheiner first observed sunspots directly through a telescope. As you may have guessed, these methods are definitely NOT safe: even though the amount of visible light is cut down by the thick column of air at the horizon, the sun can still blind you. So never stare at the sun, even when it’s cloudy, not even at sunrise or sunset.

Skywatch Wednesday 4-20-2022.mp3


The Big Dipper is a helpful guide to other stars. If you draw a line through the two stars in the front of the Big Dipper's bowl and extend that line to the north, it will point to Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is not very bright, but it is in the north, and it’s also at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, which is also hard to see since most its stars are even dimmer than Polaris. So go back to the Big Dipper’s pointer stars and run a line in the other direction, and you’ll discover a group of stars that looks like a backwards question mark high up in the eastern sky - that’s Leo the Lion. Finally, draw a curved line through the three stars in the Big Dipper’s handle, and then fly off the handle, and low in the east are the stars Arcturus and Spica.

Skywatch Wednesday 4-20-2022.mp3


The Lyrid meteor shower will reach peak activity over the next couple of nights. It’s coming out of the part of the sky where we find the constellation Lyra, the Harp, that’s why we call them the Lyrids. This shower isn’t especially strong, but viewing will be pretty good, until the old gibbous moon rises in the late evening. Get away from bright streetlights. Face east, and then look up toward the zenith. You don’t need a telescope to see these momentary bright streaks of light, in fact a telescope would hinder your view. Take a lounge chair to lean back in, dress warmly, and don't forget to protect against mosquitoes and other hazards. And if it’s cloudy or raining, go back inside, you can’t see meteor showers during rain showers.

Skywatch Thursday 4-21-2022.mp3

Thu Apr 21, 2022 DEATH OF MARK TWAIN

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, died on April 21st, 1910. Twain was born the same year that Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky. In 1909 he wrote, “I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet.” The comet’s orbit brings it close to the sun every seventy-six years on average, but it wasn’t visible to most folks until a week or so after his death in 1910. But there was a brighter comet in 1910, which could be seen in the daytime, in the months just before he died. Perhaps he was thinking of this comet when he wrote, “Death is the starlit strip between the companionship of yesterday and the reunion of tomorrow.”

Skywatch Friday 4-22-2022.mp3

Fri Apr 22, 2022 EMPTY SPRING SKY

Most of the really bright stars we see can be found in the winter evening sky. The night skies of summer have some bright stars, too, but the autumn and the spring skies are relatively empty of bright stars. This evening there are some exceptions: the star Regulus, in the constellation Leo the Lion at the top of the sky, and the stars Arcturus and Spica in the east. But most of this evening’s bright stars are actually holdovers from winter - brilliant Sirius and bright Procyon in the Greater and Lesser Dogs, Capella in Auriga the Charioteer, Castor and Pollux in Gemini, the Twins, plus Betelgeuse and Rigel and the belt stars of Orion the Hunter. And as the evening wears on, the bright star Vega in the Summer Triangle will appear in the northeast.