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Skywatch for the week of April 1, 2024

Skywatch Monday 4-1-2024.mp3

Mon Apr 1, 2024 APRIL FOOLS

Long ago the new year began not on January 1st, but on March 25th, which at that time also marked the beginning of spring. People were so glad winter was over, they partied for about a week, right up through the first day of April. Then came the Gregorian calendar reform in 1582, and in France, King Charles the 9th decided this was also a good time to move the new year’s celebration from the end of March to the beginning of January, where it is now. But some people just didn’t get it, and continued to observe the new year on April 1st. These people were laughed at, and called “poisson d'avril," or “April Fish” by their more sophisticated countrymen. And this is the origin of our modern April Fool’s Day. No fooling.


SkywatchTuesday 4-2-2024.mp3


Traveling at the speed of light is impossible. Too bad. The moon is only a quarter of a million miles away. At the speed of light, you could get there in less than a second and a half. The light from the sun takes eight minutes to travel 93 million miles to Earth. Pluto is four and a half light hours away. The comets at the edge of our solar system, perhaps a trillion miles out, are nearly ten weeks away at speed-of-light travel. Then we come to the star Alpha Centauri, a little over four light years distant – that’s 25 trillion miles. The farthest stars in our Milky Way are over a hundred thousand light years away – that’s about 600 thousand trillion miles - and the nearest big galaxy, Andromeda, is fifteen million trillion miles out – 2 and a half million light years. But distant quasars are over 12 billion light years away – 90 billion trillion miles – far out!


Skywatch Wednesday 4-3-2024.mp3


With the new season, there is also a change in the constellations in our evening sky. Orion the Hunter and his entourage - Taurus the Bull, Canis Major and Canis Minor (that is, the greater and lesser dogs,) Lepus the Hare, Auriga the Charioteer, the Gemini twins and Cancer the Crab – have slipped over into the western sky; while new star groups rise out of the east. The stars of Leo the Lion appear as a backwards question mark above the eastern horizon, while the Big Dipper stands on its handle in the northeast after dusk; and soon bright Arcturus in Boötes the Shepherd and the star Spica in Virgo the Maiden will rise. The sky wheels about us, and the springtime constellations take their places in the heavens above.


Skywatch Thursday 4-4-2024.mp3

Thu Apr 4, 2024 STARING AT THE SUN

The sun is too bright to look at, even with sunglasses. Thousands of years ago sunwatchers observed and described large sunspots, at least 40,000 miles across, that sometimes appeared on its face. They did this by looking at the sun only during sunrise or sunset when it was dim and red. And on a misty day in the year 1612 in Bavaria, the Jesuit astronomer Father Scheiner first observed sunspots directly through a telescope. As you may have guessed, these methods are definitely NOT safe: even though the amount of visible light is cut down by the thick column of air at the horizon, the sun can still blind you. So never stare at the sun, even when it’s cloudy, not even at sunrise or sunset.


Skywatch Friday 4-5-2024.mp3


There will be a total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8th. But from here on Florida’s Treasure Coast it will only be seen as a partial. The moon’s shadow, when it falls upon the earth, is only a couple of hundred miles wide, and the path of totality runs from Mexico through Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, western and northern New York state, northern Maine and New Brunswick. Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium will be open to let folks safely view the partial eclipse that we will see from here. The eclipse begins on Monday at 1:48 pm, and reaches a maximum of about sixty percent a little after 3 pm. Members of the Treasure Coast Astronomical Society and our IRSC student astronomy club will be on hand to provide safe, guided views of the eclipse, beginning at 1:30 pm. We’ll set up our equipment on the south lawn of the Planetarium. This is a free event, no tickets or reservations are needed.