Skywatch for the week of October 24, 2022
Mon Oct 24, 2022 DEATH OF TYCHO
“Let me not seem to have lived in vain.” These were the last words of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who after eleven bed-ridden days of suffering, died on October 24, 1601. Working before telescopes were invented, Tycho accurately measured star and planet positions and proved that comets were well beyond the earth. Tycho was at a banquet, and did not wish to insult his host by leaving early. As a result, his bladder burst, which killed him. In 1993, Brahe’s body was exhumed, and analysis of his hair seemed to show a lot of mercury; as an alchemist, had he accidentally poisoned himself? But a more recent autopsy shows that his mercury levels were almost in the normal range, supporting the opinion of the doctor who attended the astronomer as he lay dying; Tycho may actually have died from a burst bladder.
Tue Oct 25, 2022 NEW MOON SYNOD
In college I auditioned for “The Comedy of Errors,” a play by Shakespeare. I didn’t get the part I wanted, that of the Duke, which was a shame since I had memorized his lines, part of which went: “… since the mortal and intestine jars 'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us, It hath in solemn synods been decreed, To admit no traffic to our adverse towns.” So now you have to ask yourself, what the heck is a solemn synod? For that matter what’s a synod, solemn or otherwise? It’s a religious or a civil meeting, that’s held at a pre-arranged time, say during a new or a full moon. Today there is a new moon, and if we were using a lunar calendar, today would mark the first day of the month. The synodic month then, is a period of time marked by a complete cycle of moon phases, which is 29 and a half days in length.
Wed Oct 26, 2022 HOW MANY STARS?
How many stars are there? on a clear dark night you can see a couple thousand. The best estimates of the number of stars in the Milky Way suggest there are over 200 billion stars. Beyond the Milky Way other galaxies, hundreds of billions of them, contain trillions of stars. So, how many stars? Here’s a good way to get an idea. Next time you’re at the beach, count the number of grains of sand you can hold in your hand. You’ll be at it a while; there’s roughly 10,000 sand grains in each handful. Now count all the grains of sand on the entire beach. Follow that up by counting all the grains of sand on all the beaches of Florida, and then for extra credit, count all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. There are more stars than that in our Universe.
Thu Oct 27, 2022 NAME THAT CONSTELLATION - OCTOBER
Can you identify the thirty-third largest constellation? It is bordered on the north by Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, on the south by Lupus the Wolf, Norma the Level and Ara the Altar, on the west by Libra the Scales, and on the east by Sagittarius and the Southern Crown. Its tail dips into the Milky Way, and there are many nebulas and star clusters within its borders. In the South Pacific it’s called Maui’s fishhook, while old Greek myths say it is the animal that killed Orion the Hunter. Just a few thousand years ago the Romans turned its claws into Libra the Scales. This evening the new crescent moon appears above its brightest star Antares. Can you name this star figure, the eighth constellation of the zodiac? The answer is Scorpius, currently visible in the southwestern sky after sunset.
Fri Oct 28, 2022 THE STORY OF PERSEUS AND ANDROMEDA
Well-placed in the eastern sky this evening are four stars which form a large square – this is the great square of the constellation Pegasus the Flying Horse. North of the square there’s Cassiopeia, which resembles a letter W. Queen Cassiopeia was a boastful woman who thought herself more beautiful than the mermaids. In punishment, the sea god Poseidon sent Cetus, the sea monster, those stars below Pegasus and Pisces, to devour Cassiopeia’s daughter, the princess Andromeda, marked by several stars between Cassiopeia and Pegasus. But the hero Perseus, a scattering of stars east of Cassiopeia, came to the rescue by showing Medusa’s head to the sea monster. Cetus looked at the gorgon’s snake-infested head, turned to stone and sank. Then Perseus flew off with Andromeda on the back of Pegasus, and a happy ending.