Skywatch for the week of May 23, 2022
Mon May 23, 2022 MILTON’S MORNING STAR AND GALILEO
The English writer John Milton once wrote, “Now the bright morning star, daye's harbinger, Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her The flow'ry May.” Milton wrote these words nearly four hundred years ago, and today that same bright star is still a precursor to the dawn, for the morning star this month of May is Venus, nearest and brightest of the planets in our solar system. In 1638, Milton went to Italy and visited the astronomer and physicist Galileo at his home in Tuscany. Later, in writing his classic work, “Paradise Lost,” Milton describes a scene in the underworld, where he places a telescope, “whose Orb Through Optic Glass the Tuscan Artist views At Ev'ning…to descry new Lands, Rivers or Mountains in her spotty Globe. Galileo’s observations of the moon, the planet Venus and its phases, and even sunspots are recorded in Milton’s book, “Paradise Lost”.
Tue May 24, 2022 GREAT GALAXY!
In the evening in the summer, or in the fall, or the winter, when the sky is clear and dark, the Milky Way can be seen as a faint band of cloudy light that stretches across the heavens. But in the springtime evening, the Milky Way hugs the horizon in all directions, completely encircling it, and it can be lost in the glow of streetlights. The Milky Way is our home galaxy, and we are inside it. But which is bigger – the Milky Way galaxy or our solar system? Solar systems are billions of miles in diameter, but the disc of our Milky Way is roughly 600 thousand trillion miles across – much bigger, and what’s more, it contains hundreds of billions of solar systems. All of the stars you see up there are part of our Milky Way – great galaxy!
Wed May 25, 2022 THE VENERABLE BEDE FEAST DAY
On May 25th in the year AD 735 – that’s over 1200 years ago - the Venerable Bede, died. He was an English monk who was the first person we know of to have written scholarly works in the English language. He also wrote De Natura Rerum, which was a collection of works on geography and astronomy, much of it preserved knowledge from Greek civilization, but also knowledge gained by observation and deduction. He was aware that the earth was round, and that the solar year is not exactly 365 and a quarter days long, but roughly 365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes, so that the Julian calendar (one leap year every four years) would need to be adjusted in order to keep the months in step with the seasons. And he was the first to use the B.C. – A.D. designations in our modern calendar.
Thu May 26, 2022 MT EVEREST ANNIVERSARY
On May 28, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, became the first men to reach the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on earth. This great peak is almost five and a half miles up. And yet that height is a mere trifle to an even larger mountain found on Mars. Mount Olympus is a giant dead volcano over fifteen miles high, about three times taller than Mount Everest! Hillary needed an oxygen supply at the top of Mount Everest. On Mars he would have needed oxygen at the bottom too, as Mar’s thin carbon dioxide atmosphere is only one percent the thickness of earth’s air. Norgay and Hillary’s names were given to two mountain ranges on Pluto; but these mountains, rising two miles above the nitrogen plains on this frozen world, are made of water ice!
Fri May 27, 2022 THALES’ SOLAR ECLIPSE/A FORTUNE IN OLIVES
There was a solar eclipse on May 28th, back in the year 585 B.C. which was noteworthy in that its occurrence ended a war! As the historian Herodotus tells us: “Just as the battle was growing warm, day was suddenly changed into night. When the Lydians and the Medes observed the change, they ceased their fighting and were anxious to conclude peace.” And with that, a six-year war came to an end! Now this eclipse had been predicted by Thales of Miletus, the father of Greek astronomy. Thales was also knowledgeable on the subject of meteorology. When some folks told him that science would never make him rich, he went and figured out that upcoming fair weather would bring a good harvest of olives. So he bought up all the olive presses, and made a fortune in the olive oil market!