Skywatch for the week of August 22, 2022
Mon Aug 22, 2022 RAY BRADBURY AND MARS
The science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury was born on August 22nd, 1920. He began his career by writing short stories for pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, Planet Stories and Galaxy Science Fiction. He also wrote, “Fahrenheit 451,” “R is for Rocket,” and “The Golden Apples of the Sun.” His book, “The Martian Chronicles,” came out in 1950; it was a series of related short stories about the colonization of the planet Mars, something which is very much in the news these days. Bradbury envisioned terraforming Mars, also being discussed lately. While building pressure domes and living underground on Mars is perhaps achievable, trying to restore a viable Martian atmosphere is still well beyond our current technology, and at the moment, Mars itself is only visible after midnight. Well, like Bradbury, we can dream!
Tue Aug 23, 2022 VOYAGER 2 REACHES NEPTUNE
On August 23, 1989, the Voyager 2 spacecraft sailed past the planet Neptune on its journey toward the stars. It is the only probe that has every taken close-up pictures of the eighth planet, and the images it sent back were amazing. It found an earth-sized hurricane – the Great Dark Spot - blowing in Neptune's southern hemisphere. And there were great cirrus clouds zipping through its atmosphere at fifteen hundred miles an hour! Voyager saw three major rings orbiting Neptune, which were thicker in some spots than in others. It found several more satellites, all of them dark and irregularly shaped. It also sent back images of super-cold methane ice volcanoes erupting on the surface of its largest moon Triton. Then Voyager 2 sailed on, headed out into deep space; it’s expected to pass the star Sirius in another 300 thousand years.
Wed Aug 24, 2022 THE PLUTO VOTE
On August 24 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of the planet club. At the time the IAU had about 10,000 astronomers as members, but on the last day of their conference in Prague only 424 of them voted. And you had to be in the room to vote – no mail-in ballots. Does this sound like scientists aren’t any different from your average politician? Yes it does. And that’s because scientists are people too, and therefore can be just as mean, stubborn and stupid as anybody else on the planet. Members of the American Astronomical Society weren’t happy about the vote. Neither was Alan Stern, the principal scientist who oversaw the successful New Horizons mission to Pluto that took place in 2015, revealing an incredible world with nitrogen ice plains and great water ice mountains.
Thu Aug 25, 2022 ORION AFTER MIDNIGHT
Orion the Hunter has been absent from our evening skies for a couple of months now. If you want to find him tonight, you’ll have to go out long after midnight. He rises out of the east around 3 am, and climbs up into the southeastern sky as dawn approaches. If you’d rather see Orion during the evening hours, then you’ll have to wait until October, and even then it won’t be just after sunset, but in the late evening. As the year and the seasons progress, the earth’s revolution carries us around the sun: stars behind the sun cannot be seen until the earth takes us a little farther along the orbital path, which changes the sun’s position against the background of stars. This summer’s evening skies feature such constellations as Scorpius and Sagittarius as well as Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan.
Fri Aug 26, 2022 KRAKATOA
On August 27, 1883, the volcano called Krakatoa exploded, creating the loudest sound ever heard in recorded history. Australians, nearly 3,000 miles away, heard it. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives, either from the heat of the blast or from falling debris, or from the resulting tsunamis. Shock waves traveled around the world, and volcanic ash blanketed thousands of miles of our planet. For the next year, the earth’s average temperature dropped by over a couple of degrees Fahrenheit because of all the ash thrown into the upper atmosphere. It also brought months of colorful sunsets across the planet. Later, the shattered remnants of Krakatoa grew a new mountain, named Anak Krakatau, the “child of Krakatoa.” In December 2018, it also erupted, and more tsunamis caused more death and devastation throughout Indonesia.