Earth Day – 2020

   It is the annual Earth Day this year on Wednesday April 22nd.
   What exactly is Earth Day?

“It is a day of political action and civic participation. People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. Faith leaders, including Pope Francis, connect Earth Day with protecting God’s greatest creations, humans, biodiversity and the planet that we all live on.”(https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2020/)


   The theme for Earth Day 2020 is Climate Action
   
   Download the 2019 edition of NASA’s photo book, Earth (PDF).
 
Go to NASA’s Earth Day Toolkit web site for ideas and activities for parents and educators (which by the way, are one and the same. “Parents are Teachers!”


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

A Tail of Two Comets

   April 1990 Comet Austin (1989c1) now getting brighter approaching naked-eye visibility.
   April 2020 Comet ATLAS (2019c1) predicted to brighten to naked eye visibility has now apparently broken apart.

   30 years ago, April 1990, I wrote the first of what was to become a continuing column about Earth and Space called Scope on the Skies for Science Scope Magazine. This is the Professional Journal for Middle School Science Teachers and is published by the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA)

   That April 1990 column, Comet Watch – “Comet Austin”, was about a potential naked-eye visible comet discovered by New Zealand Astronomer Rod Austin during December 1989. The comet was appropriately named Comet Austin 1989c1. The comet increased in brightness over the months following its discovery reaching around 4th magnitude and naked-eye visibility the following May of 1990.

   This month as Comet ATLAS (2019c1) was showing signs of becoming a bright comet it broke apart. This was reported a few days ago and the break-up has since been tentatively confirmed.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

Imbolog 2018

   Watch That WoodChuck!
groundhog newspaper   On February 2, we watch for the groundhog to emerge for reasons that originate from ancient Celtic tradition. Groundhog Day was known as lmbolog, or sheep’s milk, a time for nurturing young sheep and planting spring crops. The belief arose that if lmbolog were to be sunny and clear, then winter’s effects would endure, foreshadowing a long winter. How­ever, if skies were overcast, then the warmer days of spring would arrive early. To farmers then and today, an early spring means early spring plant­ing and a subsequent early harvest. Often fires were lit to commemorate the event as fires were a sign of warmth and light, both of which increased as days lengthened.
not a meteorologist   German immigrant farmers are credited with bringing Groundhog Day with them to the United States as they settled in Pennsylvania. To them, February 2 was called Candlemas Day, because of the practice of lighting candles on this day in celebration of early planting. The Germans believed that the badger was able to predict the weather on the basis of whether or not its shadow appeared. If the badger, or groundhog, saw its shadow on Candlemas, it would be scared and return to its burrow for another six weeks to sleep through the long winter. However, if the skies were cloudy then no shadows would appear, and an early and warm spring would be expected. The importance of this day to German immigrants, and its impact on their farming gave rise to the couplet:
         A farmer would rather see his wife upon a bier,
         than that Candlemas Day should be sunny and clear.

puxs-phil-lied   Year after year, since 1898, crowds have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on February 2 to wait for a certain groundhog to emerge from its burrow. Today the belief in this as a predictor of weather is not nearly as consequential as it appears despite all the hoopla created by the news media. Yet, there is some scientific rationale to this ritual, albeit not in the accuracy of the forecast. When the skies are clear, temperatures tend to be cold as the ground radiates heat absorbed during the day back into the atmosphere; and when skies are over­cast temperatures tend to moderate as clouds trap heat nearer the ground.
Midpoints
Groundhog-Standing2   To other cultures in the Northern Hemisphere Candlemas Day was celebrated as the midpoint, or cross­ quarter day, between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Cross-quarter days occur midway between the astronomical events that mark the beginning of each of the four seasons, the solstices and the equinoxes. The second cross-quarter day of the year, as it is calculated mathematically, occurs on May 6, although it is often associated with May Day, on May 1. The third cross­ quarter day of the year is August 7, the only one of the four without a significant event associated with it. Mid-autumn, the fourth cross-quarter day, occurs on the last day of October, Hallowmas Eve, or as we now know it, Halloween.
   Interestingly this system of equinox, solstice, and cross-quarter days has led to some confusion as to when the seasonal midpoints and endpoints occur. For example, June 21-22 is the official date for the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but it is sometimes referred to as midsummer’s day. This would suggest that summer actually begins on May Day and ends in early August. In a similar manner, December 21, the start of winter for the Northern Hemisphere, is some­times referred to as midwinter’s day. This would imply winter actually begins at the end of October, and concludes (assuming no shadow is seen) on Groundhog Day.
groundhog   So will we have a long winter, or will it be short, and our spring be an early spring? No one can predict this, at least not based on seeing one’s shadow. However, come this February 2, rest assured that crowds will once again gather to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his hole.
   Adapted from “Watch that Woodchuck” Scope on the Skies. Science Scope Magazine. February 1993.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

2017 Summer Solstice on Mars

A Martian Year

A Martian Year – at One Earth Month Intervals

   Monday November 20th is the summer solstice on the planet Mars as the planet transitions from spring to summer during its 684 Earth day orbit around the Sun. Seasons on Mars are marked by the planet’s heliocentric longitude coordinates using the position of Mars along its orbit around the Sun. Each seasonal start/ending point is 90 degrees apart, but because of its elliptical-shaped orbit each Martian season is of varying lengths.

   I’m not exactly sure why this particular date is used but by international agreement astronomers have selected 11 April, 1955 as 0 degrees for year 1 of this Martian calendar. What this means is that on Monday November 20th, Earth time, it is the start of summer for year 34 using the aforementioned calendar system.

Year 34
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — May 05 2017
90 degrees — Summer solstice — November 20 2017
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — May 20 2018
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — October 16 2018

Year 35
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — March 23 2019
90 degrees — Summer solstice — October 08 2019
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — April 08 2020
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — September 02 2020

Year 36
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — February 07 2021
90 degrees — Summer solstice — August 25 2021
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — February 24 2022
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — July 21 2022

Learn a little (or a lot) more about the exploration of Mars at the NASA Journey to Mars web site.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Climate Change and Bees


   
So why the bee pictures? It’s all about climate change and the significance of these little residents that we share our planet with. A point is that climate change will certainly have an impact on the human population but perhaps even more serious will be the harm it does to Earth inhabitants like the Bee and its important work of pollinating plants.

   Here is an interesting an informative video from NASA about Bees, pollination, and how the Bees are used in a study about climate change effects..

   Keep informed about climate change with these smartphone apps from NASA.

Some of my Bee Pictures:

Remember: Earth is our home, our only home.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Perseid Hydro-Meteor Shower

   I was in Tucson Arizona this past week and was hoping, while there, to be able to take advantage of the darker skies for some night photography including the Perseid Meteor Shower. However this time of year is the monsoon season for Arizona so the nights for the meteor shower were a mixture of clouds, fog, and drizzle. A hydro-meteor shower! So my photography attempts were limited to pictures of a rain and lightning storm over the Catalina Mountains from my brother’s house.
   The camera was set to take an exposure every second and out of more than 500 pictures I was able to get a few pictures of lightning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.

NSTA @ Nashville


   I’m in Nashville Tennessee for the next several days at the NSTA national conference. Planets and stars will still be in the skies but not as easy to see from downtown Nashville as it is where I live. On the morning of April 1st the waning waning crescent Moon will be within a few degrees from Dwarf Planet Pluto. Too dim to be seen without a large telescope it is, nonetheless, a neat idea that when you look toward the Moon you are also looking in the direction of Pluto. It’s out there!
   And here is a sequence of graphics showing the pre-sunrise morning sky at 5:30 am EDT for each day during the conference, and one night view on April 1st showing Jupiter. Both Pluto and the Moon are located just above and to the left from the handle of the teapot asterism for Sagittarius the Archer.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

March 2015 Equinox and Solar Eclipse

   Friday March 20th is an equinox day. This means that for those in the northern hemisphere winter is ending and spring has ‘sprung’ (starts). For our counterparts south of the equator summer is ending and fall is beginning. From a geographical perspective we would describe the Sun as being over the Earth’s equator, and as this graphic shows there would be an equal amount of daylight and night on our planet as a result.
    At mid-day on the equator the sun is directly overhead and from that latitude you have no shadow, just a ‘blob-like’ shadow at your feet as this picture of my feet taken at mid-day in Quito Ecuador shows.

    Regardless of your hemispheric preference get outside and cast a shadow!

seasons-ani  Northern hemisphere spring officially (well at least astronomically) begins at 22:45 UT (4:45 pm CST) on the 20th when the Sun reaches the celestial coordinates of 0 hours and 0 degrees as it moves northward along the ecliptic crossing the celestial equator. At this location the Sun is within the constellation of Pisces the Fishes and not just entering Aries the Ram as the pseudoscience of astrology would have you believe.

    To learn more about the celestial coordinates click here to read a previous post about seasons and the equinox.

   The time of this equinox is about 13 hours after a new Moon phase and a solar eclipse. This picture shows the shadow of the Moon cast on the Earth during a solar eclipse as seen from the International Space Station.

   Click here to see the online world sunlight map used to make the day/night graphic at the top of the page.

sun-earth   Click here to go to the NASA Sun-Earth Days web site.

   Here is a short series of hourly pictures taken during the day on the September equinox on the equator in Quito Ecuador at Collegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, a private school that I visited and did the SunShIP project with (Sun Shadow Investigation Project).

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[centup]
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Imbolog – 2015

   Watch That WoodChuck!
groundhog newspaper   On February 2, we watch for the groundhog to emerge for reasons that originate from ancient Celtic tradition. Groundhog Day was known as lmbolog, or sheep’s milk, a time for nurturing young sheep and planting spring crops. The belief arose that if lmbolog were to be sunny and clear, then winter’s effects would endure, foreshadowing a long winter. How­ever, if skies were overcast, then the warmer days of spring would arrive early. To farmers then and today, an early spring means early spring plant­ing and a subsequent early harvest. Often fires were lit to commemorate the event as fires were a sign of warmth and light, both of which increased as days lengthened.
not a meteorologist   German immigrant farmers are credited with bringing Groundhog Day with them to the United States as they settled in Pennsylvania. To them, February 2 was called Candlemas Day, because of the practice of lighting candles on this day in celebration of early planting. The Germans believed that the badger was able to predict the weather on the basis of whether or not its shadow appeared. If the badger, or groundhog, saw its shadow on Candlemas, it would be scared and return to its burrow for another six weeks to sleep through the long winter. However, if the skies were cloudy then no shadows would appear, and an early and warm spring would be expected. The importance of this day to German immigrants, and its impact on their farming gave rise to the couplet:
         A farmer would rather see his wife upon a bier,
         than that Candlemas Day should be sunny and clear.

puxs-phil-lied   Year after year, since 1898, crowds have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on February 2 to wait for a certain groundhog to emerge from its burrow. Today the belief in this as a predictor of weather is not nearly as consequential as it appears despite all the hoopla created by the news media. Yet, there is some scientific rationale to this ritual, albeit not in the accuracy of the forecast. When the skies are clear, temperatures tend to be cold as the ground radiates heat absorbed during the day back into the atmosphere; and when skies are over­cast temperatures tend to moderate as clouds trap heat nearer the ground.
Midpoints
Groundhog-Standing2   To other cultures in the Northern Hemisphere Candlemas Day was celebrated as the midpoint, or cross­ quarter day, between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Cross-quarter days occur midway between the astronomical events that mark the beginning of each of the four seasons, the solstices and the equinoxes. The second cross-quarter day of the year, as it is calculated mathematically, occurs on May 6, although it is often associated with May Day, on May 1. The third cross­ quarter day of the year is August 7, the only one of the four without a significant event associated with it. Mid-autumn, the fourth cross-quarter day, occurs on the last day of October, Hallowmas Eve, or as we now know it, Halloween.
   Interestingly this system of equinox, solstice, and cross-quarter days has led to some confusion as to when the seasonal midpoints and endpoints occur. For example, June 21 is the official date for the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but it is sometimes referred to as midsummer’s day. This would suggest that summer actually begins on May Day and ends in early August. In a similar manner, December 21, the start of winter for the Northern Hemisphere, is some­times referred to as midwinter’s day. This would imply winter actually begins at the end of October, and concludes (assuming no shadow is seen) on Groundhog Day.
groundhog   So will we have a long winter, or will it be short, and our spring be an early spring? No one can predict this, at least not based on seeing one’s shadow. However, come this February 2, rest assured that crowds will once again gather to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his hole.
   Adapted from “Watch that Woodchuck” Scope on the Skies. Science Scope Magazine. February 1993.

   
   
   
[centup]
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Along the Ecliptic

   In the posting yesterday I described the shape, or eccentricity, or the Earth’s orbit as not being a factor in how we have seasons. As we all should have learned it is the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis relative to the plane of the ecliptic. This tilt is approximately 23.5o and this combined with revolution around the Sun is as they say ‘the reasons for seasons.’
    But this is not the point of this posting, but rather it is the plane of the ecliptic and where planets, dwarf planets, and our Moon orbit relative to the plane of the ecliptic. This relationship is known as inclination and it is the angle, in degrees, above the plane of the ecliptic. What this means is that the Earth’s orbit the bright green line, which is in reality the ecliptic, is the reference plane from which the other Sun orbiting objects respective orbit is tilted from. If you follow this explanation, and perhaps have read or noticed that each month I have posted when the Moon reaches its ascending or descending node. This ascending and descending node also applies to the other planets and dwarf planets as well because the planets and dwarf planets, like our Moon, have orbital paths tilted away from the plane of the ecliptic as this graphic shows. The table below shows the inclination for the planets and one dwarf planet.

   What got me started on this was in part from what I wrote yesterday but also yesterday evening as I was attempting to get some pictures of the rising full Moon through some trees. This was despite the air temperature being near 0° F! Nonetheless as I was looking around enjoying the first really clear sky evening in a several weeks I couldn’t help but notice how Mercury, Venus and Mars were lined up from west to east along where I visualized in my mind the location of the ecliptic. Then using my ‘go to’ Astronomy simulator I set up a slideshow with the ecliptic, planets, a few dwarf planets, and our Moon displayed and set to 1-hour intervals starting with sunrise 7:30 am CST, my local time. You can see how the planets are very close to the ecliptic compared with the dwarf planets. The Moon is sometimes below, sometimes above, and sometimes right on the ecliptic – which if timed right gives us an eclipse.

Inclinations of 8 Planets and 1 Dwarf Planet
Name	Inclination
Mercury	7.01°
Venus	3.39°
Earth	0°	
Mars	1.85°	
Jupiter	1.31°
Saturn	2.49°
Uranus	0.77°
Neptune	1.77°
Pluto	17.15°

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[centup]
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.