Skywatch week of May 16
Mon May 16, 2022 MAY’S FULL MOON
The moon was full last night, and if you were outside looking at it, as we recommended a couple of days ago, you might have seen it roll into the earth’s shadow in the late evening – a total lunar eclipse. Tonight the moon is just past full, but it will still look pretty round to the casual eye, although if you look closely you’ll see a little shadowing along its western edge, and that isn’t the earth’s shadow, it’s the moon’s shadow. May’s full moon is called the Merry Moon. The Creek and the Seminole Indians say it is the Mulberry Moon. The Cheyenne name it the Moon When Horses Get Fat, but to the Sioux, it’s the Moon When the Ponies Shed. To the Salish, it is the Flower Moon, but the Osage tribes call it the Moon When the Little Flowers Die.
Tue May 17, 2022 THE MOON AND THE HORSESHOE CRAB
In the springtime, usually in the month of May when the moon is new or full, and the Atlantic Ocean tide is high, horseshoe crabs mate and lay their eggs in the sand at the water's edge. Not a true crab at all, but a distant relative of spiders and scorpions, the horseshoe crab is often called a living fossil because its kind has existed unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. Far above, the moon shines down upon them from a distance of a quarter of a million miles. Horseshoe crabs can hardly see the moon, lacking proper eyesight for the task, but they are nevertheless driven to perform their mating ritual according to a very ancient tradition, following the rhythm of the lunar spring tides of May.
Wed May 18, 2022 HOWLING COYOTE
An old Navajo story tells how the stars came to be. The Great Spirit asked all the animals to gather up the bright shining stones along the river. They carried those stones up into the sky where they became stars. They put them in patterns which would show the people which creatures had set those stars in place. Now the small animals could not carry many stars and Great Spirit asked Coyote to take a bag of stones to help them complete their pictures. But Coyote soon grew tired, and he flung the stones across the sky, scattering them, and making a jumble of the pictures. Then Coyote was sorry, because he had forgotten to put his own picture up in the heavens. And that, say the Navajo, is why the Coyote howls at night.
Thu May 19, 2022 THE SUN AND THE SOLAR YEAR
Over the course of a year, the sun drifts eastward against the background of stars. It’s a very slow motion caused not by earth’s rotation, but by its revolution about the sun, which displaces the sun’s position by about 1 degree of angle a day – that’s less than the width of your little finger at arm’s length! After roughly 365 days, the sun returns to where it had been exactly a year ago. Today the sun appears near the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus. Next month it will be in Gemini, the month after that in Cancer, then Leo, and so on until next May 19th, when it will be alongside the Pleiades again. This defines the solar year as the amount of time needed for the sun to go full circle, once around the zodiac in the heavens.
Fri May 20, 2022 ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Arthur Conan Doyle, born on May 22nd, 1859, invented the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, one of my favorites. But Holmes confessed to Doctor Watson that he didn’t know that the earth orbited the sun: “What… is it to me? You say we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work.” But I think that astronomy would appeal to his powers of observation. And through inductive reasoning, Holmes could infer that if we live on a planet, one of many, that goes round the sun, then it would be logical to assume that there were other planets out there, going ‘round other suns. And he did say, “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sounds a lot like black holes to me!