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Skywatch for the week of December 25, 2023

Skywatch Monday 12-25-2023.mp3

Mon Dec 25, 2023 THE MAGI

Who were the Magi? We think they were Babylonian astrologers who may have witnessed a triple conjunction, three separate passings of the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus, that took place during 3 and 2 BC. Jupiter wanders against the background of constellations over time, caused by the combined motions of Jupiter and the earth as they orbit the sun. Regulus, in the constellation Leo the Lion, was the signal star of the Babylonian king. Jupiter’s appearance near Regulus may have set the Magi on their course toward Bethlehem to seek out a new king. Tonight, Jupiter is a bright star-like object high in the eastern sky at sunset.



Today the full moon rises out of the east at sunset. December’s full moon is known as the Big Winter Moon – that’s according to the Creek and the Seminole Indians. To the Algonquin Indians and to colonial settlers, this is the Long Night Moon, another reference to the beginning of winter, when days are short and nights are long. The Sioux call this the Moon of Popping Trees, perhaps because the cold air freezes water, causing the trees to crack and pop. The Winnebago name it the Big Bear’s Moon, and the Cheyenne say it is the Moon When the Wolves Run Together - pack hunters searching for food before the snows of winter.


Skywatch Wednesday12-27-2023.mp3

Wed Dec 27, 2023 JOHANNES KEPLER

Johannes Kepler, born on December 27th in the year 1571, believed in Copernicus’ theory that the earth orbited the sun. But while Copernicus had a beautiful idea, the astronomer held on to the ancient notion that the orbits of planets were perfectly circular. The data that Kepler used, obtained from the painstaking observations of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, didn’t support that notion. Unlike past theorists, Kepler refused to toss out the data, which he knew was accurate. Instead he discarded that perfect round circle theory and introduced a new one: the orbits of planets are elliptical. Once elliptical orbits were calculated, the motions of the planets became understandable and predictable.

Skywatch Wednesday12-27-2023.mp3


Thu Dec 28, 2023 TELESCOPE HELP

If on Christmas Day you found a telescope under your tree, and by now you still haven't figured out how to get it to work, here’s some basic advice. You've either got a reflector, which has a big mirror at the bottom of the telescope, or a refractor, usually a long tube with a big glass lens at the top. The refractor’s eyepiece, which does the magnifying, goes into the draw tube at the bottom of the scope. If you have more than one eyepiece, use the eyepiece with the biggest number - this will give you the least magnification, which is what you want to start out. As a general rule, don’t magnify more than 50 power for each inch of aperture, the width of your main lens or mirror.


Skywatch Friday 12-29-2023.mp3

Fri Dec 29, 2023 NEW YEAR’S AVATAR

Often the outgoing year is portrayed as a very old man known as Father Time. Father Time in turn is based on the Greek mythological god Kronos, whom the Romans associated with Saturn, an agricultural god. The planet Saturn takes 29 years to orbit the sun, so to sky-watchers of long ago, it seemed as if this slow-moving, unhurried planet must somehow be associated with time. In late December great festivals like the Saturnalia were held in honor of Saturn. Gifts were exchanged, homes and streets were decorated, and everybody was in a happy party mood. After this came the solstice and celebrations of the sun, then another holiday for Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings, and for whom the month of January is named.