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Skywatch for the week of January 1,2024

Skywatch Monday 1-1-2024.mp3


January is named for Janus, the Roman god who had two faces: one looked back to the past, the other looked forward to the future. This is also the year Two thousand twenty-four, which according to the calculations of a Roman monk, Dionysius Exiguus, marks the two thousand and 24th year following the birth of Christ – AD – Anno Domini – in the year of Our Lord - 2024. But Dionysius’s count was off by one year. Our calendar goes from 1 BC to AD 1 – there is no zero year, because the numerical concept of zero was not used in Europe back then. Now if you’re outside tonight after sunset you can find the planet Jupiter shining well up in the eastern sky, appearing as a bright, star-like object. Another planet, ringed Saturn, will appear as a yellow-tinged star over in the southwest.




J.R.R. Tolkien was born on January 3rd, 1892. In his fantasy story, “The Hobbit,” the hero Bilbo meets a strange creature named Smeagol down in a deep cave, and they ask each other riddles. One goes like this: “It cannot be seen, cannot be felt Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. It lies behind stars and under hills And empty holes it fills.” And the answer is, “darkness.” Now, here’s an astronomy riddle I made up: “At weddings they appear; and at front doors it’s them we hear. They’re found on Elven hands and soda cans; ‘Round Saturn they appear.” And the answer is, “rings.” Let’s try another astronomy riddle. “It’s always on, and never off. It’s more when nearby, and less when far off; It keeps the sun from spilling out. And in the end, it stops us going up and about.” The answer is “gravity.”


Skywatch Wednesday1-3-2023.mp3


Tonight, as we make our closest approach to the sun, we also have a meteor shower going on, called the Quadrantids. Most meteor showers are the result of comets passing through our part of outer space; they deposit ice and debris in our path and the earth sweeps it up as it orbits the sun. the Quadrantids seem to come from an asteroid – in this case, 2003EH1, which has a five and a half year orbit (and some astronomers think it may actually be a burned-out comet!) This is not a very big shower, but it’s always nice to see a “shooting star” on a crisp winter night. This meteor shower will be best seen during the evening hours, before the third quarter moon rises at midnight. Face toward the northeast and look up toward the top of the sky.

Skywatch Thursday 1-4-2023.mp3

Thu Jan 4, 2024 PERIHELION

The earth's distance from the sun changes. Today our planet reaches perihelion, a point in its orbit where we’re closest to the sun. On average, we're about 93 million miles from the sun, but right now, we are just a little under 91 and a half million miles from it. So if we're a million and a half miles closer to the sun, how come we're having winter? Well, not everyone on earth is having winter; summer has just begun for folks who live below the equator. Our seasons are caused not by distance, but by the earth’s 23 and a half degree tilt as it orbits. Like a gyroscope, the earth‘s north pole points toward the North Star. Now our north hemisphere is tipped away from the sun; this puts the sun lower in our sky, and with less direct sunlight we get cooler temperatures.


Skywatch Friday 1-5-2023.mp3


If you can’t find anything with your new telescope, you probably need to align its finder scope - that's that small tube mounted on the side of the main tube. When you look through the finder you'll see the crosshairs - two lines which cross each other. First you look through the finder and put the crosshairs over the object you're trying to zoom in on. But when you look through the main tube's eyepiece, it’s not there! To align the finder with the main scope, start by putting any distinctive, far away landmark into view through the eyepiece of the main tube. Clamp down the telescope, then you need to twist the little bolts which hold the finder in place so that the object is on the crosshairs. Now you're aligned, and everything else will be easier to find.