Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Skywatch for the week of January 22, 2024

Skywatch Monday 1-22-2024.mp3

Mon Jan 22, 2024 SMOKING STAR

In the southeastern sky after sunset there are three stars close together in a row that form the belt of Orion the Hunter. These stars are named Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, Arabic words for belt, girdle or string of pearls. If skies are dark enough, you can see that there is a star just below the belt that looks a little fuzzy, or out-of-focus. To the Blackfoot Indians of Montana, this was "smoking star," and it represented a hero who saved people from injustice and rid the world of monsters. If you look at “smoking star” with binoculars, you will see it as a fuzzy object. Use a telescope with a little more magnification, and you can see the outlines of a large cloud, trillions of miles across. It is the Great Orion Nebula, which is lit up by bright stars within the cloud, making it glow brightly in the darkness of outer space.


SkywatchTuesday 1-23-2024.mp3


The American poet Robert Frost was a keen observer of the world and nature, capturing the simple majesty of the Universe. In his poem, The Star Splitter, he begins, “You know Orion always comes up sideways,” as indeed he does, first the forward shoulder and leg, then the hunter’s belt, and lastly the trailing shoulder and knee. Orion can be found in the southeast sky after sunset. If you trace the stars of his belt downward, you will find the star Sirius in the constellation of the Big Dog, Canis Major, and Frost wrote a poem about this too, placing Sirius in the dog’s eye: “The great Overdog That heavenly beast With a star in one eye Gives a leap in the east. He dances upright All the way to the west And never once drops On his forefeet to rest.” Because of the earth’s rotation, Canis Major does move across the sky just the way Frost describes it.


Skywatch Wednesday 1-24-2024.mp3


The Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that the earth did not rotate, because if it did, there would be great winds sweeping across the planet. Had Aristotle ever gone on an ocean voyage, he could have discovered these trade winds, which flow east and west due to the earth’s spin. Aristotle also said the earth didn’t go around the sun, because if it did, we’d see the stars exhibit parallax – that’s when you see something not too far away shift against a distant background when you look at it from two different places. The closer a star is to you, the greater the parallax. So nearby stars ought to shift position when we look at them from either end of the earth's orbit. Since they don't seem to do this, then the earth doesn't move. Either that, or those stars must be really, really far away. And as it turns out, they are!


Skywatch Thursday 1-26-2024.mp3

Thu Jan 25, 2024 JANUARY FULL MOON

The moon is full today, rising out of the east at sunset. To ancient Celts, January’s full moon was the Storm Moon, because they believed that storms raged both before and after its appearance in the sky. To the Passamaquoddy Indians, this is the Wolf Moon, a time of year when wolves that normally avoided humans, would be forced by winter famine to scavenge from the villages. Wolves were seen more frequently, especially at night when the moon was full and bright. To the Sioux, this is the Moon of Strong Cold; the Zuni know it as the Moon When the Limbs of Trees are Broken by Snow. The Tewa Pueblo peoples call it the Ice Moon, the Cherokee the Windy Moon. And to the Omaha Indians, it is the Moon When the Snow Drifts into the Tepees.

Skywatch Thursday 1-26-2024.mp3

Fri Jan 26, 2024 ORION’S RETURN

The ancient constellation Orion the Hunter has returned to our evening skies. He can be found in the southeast after sunset. In Robert Frost's "The Star Splitter," the poet begins by saying, "You know Orion always comes up sideways. Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains, And rising on his hands, he looks in on me Busy outdoors by lantern-light." Orion does come up sideways, first his left shoulder, the star Bellatrix, and the hunter's knee, the star Rigel; then three bright stars in a row which form his belt, followed by Betelgeuse in Orion's right shoulder, and finally his right leg, the star Saiph. When I was young, I saw Orion, looking just as he does now, as did my grandparents, and their grandparents, and so on back for thousands of years.