Eppur Si Muove


   February 15th is Galileo Day.
   Quoting Galileo, “and yet it still moves”, in reference to the Earth actually orbiting the Sun. So how to acknowledge his achievements and contributions to modern Science? Read on…

   Jupiter’s Moons
   One enjoyable pasttime is to observe the constantly changing four largest moons orbiting Jupiter. Sometimes known as the Galilean Satellites, they are: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Named after Galileo who made many observations of the moons and from these observations and other observations led him to question the Geocentric model of the solar system. These four planet-sized moons are visible as small bright stars on either side of Jupiter and depending on the time and date of viewing their arrangement around Jupiter is never the same as this animated graphic, set to 1-Earth day intervals, is showing.
   Recreate Galileo’s observations of the Galilean satellites through the use of an online simulation, the Java applet, Juplet. Input dates or times to see the position of the four Galilean satellites.
The Juplet will display the planet and the satellite configuration for the date and time on the computer, or you could easily edit the date and time, and after pressing the Enter key see a different configuration. To keep track of these changes the position of each satellite relative to Jupiter could be drawn on a data table similar to Galileo’s data table.

   This video, ‘Orbs of Jupiter’, was one of the videos I made for a live musical performance at the Gottleib Planetarium at Science City in Kansas City MO. The original videos were made for full-dome projection – this one has been flattened. Music was written by Richard Johnson and performed by Rebecca Ashe (Flute) and Cheryl Melfi (Clarinet). Live and pre-recorded Electro-acoustical sampling by Richard Johnson and Daniel Eichenbaum. The soundtrack for the video is from the live performance by Dark Matter.

   
   
   

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Imbolog 2021

   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.

   
   
   

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January Apogee Moon

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday January 21st. For this apogee the 9-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be at a distance of 31.70 Earth diameters, 251,282 miles (404,400 km) from the Earth.

   On the date of the apogee, and high above the southwestern horizon, is the 8-day old waxing gibbous Moon. The Moon will be about 7o to the east from the planet Mars, and about 9o from the outer planet Uranus.


   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
   *Click here to read my Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
   

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Earth at Perihelion – 2021

   Feel the Heat?
   As the Earth continues its annual trek around the Sun, Saturday January 2nd at 13 UT (7 am CST), the Earth reaches a point in its orbit that is called perihelion. Perihelion is the minimum distance that separates the Earth from the Sun, and we are the closest to the Sun for the year at this point in the orbit. So this year, 2021, the Earth is 0.9833 AU; 91,403,445 miles; 147,099,586 km from the Sun.

   Approximately one-half year or one-half revolution later, on July 5th, the Earth is at aphelion and is 1.0167 AU (94,508,169 miles; 152,096,155 km), its maximum distance from the Sun for 2020. This approximately 3% difference in distances between perihelion and aphelion is due to the shape of the Earth’s orbit being elliptical rather than circular. However the Earth has a mildly elliptically shaped orbit that is closer to being slightly out-of-round than the incorrect, very elliptical orbit that is often shown – like the illustration used here.

sun2014-ani   In Astronomy the shape of a planet’s orbit is called eccentricity, with 0 being a circle and 1 a straight line. Any value between 0 and 1 represents an ellipse. The shape of the Earth’s orbit is so close to being circular that the apparent size of the Sun does not appear to change as this animated graphic shows. The difference between perihelion and aphelion is about 3%.

   Eccentricity for each planet is listed below for comparison.

Planet	   Eccentricity	
Mercury	   0.2056
Venus	   0.0068
Earth	   0.0167
Mars	   0.0934
Jupiter	   0.0484
Saturn	   0.0542
Uranus	   0.0472
Neptune	   0.0086
Pluto	   0.2488

   To read more about the Earth’s orbit and get some teaching ideas click here to download a PDF copy of my January Scope on the Skies column Solar Explorations.


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.


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2020-Winter Solstice

sag-cap-ani   According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Capricornus the Sea Goat this month when in fact the actual position of the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer.
   In Astronomical terms the December Solstice is official when the Sun will have reached the celestial coordinates of 23.5o degrees south declination; 18 hours right ascension. With regard to the Earth’s surface this places the Sun over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is at 23.5o south latitude. We also know that it is the Earth’s tilt on its axis that is the cause for seasons on Earth rather than the distance between the Earth and the Sun. And of course we know that this signals the start of northern hemisphere winter and the southern hemisphere summer seasons.

   The official time for the change of seasons is at 10:01 UT on Monday December 21st, or 5:01 am CST.
earth-in-gemini

   And for those ‘insanely curious’ like me, while the Sun is at 23.5o South declination and ‘in’ Sagittarius the Earth is opposite at 23.5o North declination and at the feet of the Gemini Twins.

   The animated graphic below sets the stage, so to speak, to illustrate the Sun’s actual location with respect to the zodiac constellations in the background. This is as opposed to the location of the Sun according to the pseudoscience of Astrology. The scene is set for 12:15 CST, or mid-day when the Sun is at an azimuth of 180o, or south, and is mid-way between rising and setting. Starting with the Sun at mid-day the scene changes as first the daytime sky is turned off, followed by the horizon being turned off.
   This leaves a sky view like during a total solar eclipse except that the Sun is not blocked out by the new Moon. And like during that solar eclipse the zodiac constellations in the background become visible.
   Then the following are added starting first with Sagittarius, then Capricorn, and then the ecliptic and celestial equator are added to show the relationship between the two constellations and what makes them plus another 11 constellations the astronomical zodiac of 13 constellations. The animation ends with the addition of the constellation boundary lines and labels for the rest of the constellations in this setting.
   It is the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun which, if it crosses the boundary of a constellation, makes that constellation one of the zodiac. And during December the Sun’s apparent path takes it across the constellation of Sagittarius rather than Capricorn.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.

   
   
   

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A December Moon 3 for 1

                              New Phase, Descending Node, and a Solar Eclipse!

   Monday December 14th the new Moon crosses the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic. This is an event that happens 2-3 times each month, but when a node crossing happens at new or full Moon phase there will be either a solar eclipse at new Moon or a lunar eclipse at full Moon.
   It’s all about timing, and the closer the node crossing time is to the time for the new or full phase that increases the chances for an eclipse. The time for the descending node crossing is 11:00 UT December 14th and the time for new Moon phase is about 5 hours later at 16:16 UT.

   So we get a total solar eclipse this time around. Hopefully my two camera amigos in Esquel Argentina will get some good pictures. Hint, hint Pablo y Checho!


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.


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November Moon at Ascending Node

   Wednesday November 4th the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit, and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic. So there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.

   On the day of the node crossing the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon will be over the eastern horizon around sunset local time. Mars is higher over the southeastern horizon while Jupiter and Saturn are low over the western horizon.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as many graphics show? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
*Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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.


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It’s A Super Perigee New Moon – But Don’t Look!

   Our Moon reaches perigee, (closest to Earth), for this orbit, on Friday October 16th. At that time the new Moon, in the direction of the Sun, will be at a distance of 27.98 Earth diameters, or 221,767 miles (356,900 km) from the Earth, and about 7-10 km further than the super perigee Moon of this past April.
   At this distance the new Moon is at its second closest perigee distance allowing this new Moon to be considered a ‘Super Moon’.
   Don’t look for the Moon as it is at new phase and in the direction of the Sun. Stay safe and explore the Super Moons for 2020 graphically.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   

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.


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Uranus is Backing Up

July 22nd to December 22nd :  Uranus at 30-day intervals   Well that’s a good to know!
   Saturday August 15nd the outer ringed planet Uranus appears to halt its regular eastward orbital motion and begins moving toward the west, in retrograde motion. Retrograde motion is an apparent motion to the west that any outer planet relative to the Earth appears to do whenever the faster moving Earth passes by. Sort of like passing a car on the highway. You know both vehicles are moving in the same direction but from your perspective it could appear that the other car is moving backward as you go by.
   Regardless, retrograde motion for the outer planets happens at regular intervals as the Earth pass each one. It is always more than a year and always a little further to the east when the retrograde motion begins each time. This is because the outer planet is also moving eastward.
   Mars, another outer planet, begins its retrograde motion next month.
   
   

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June Solstice – 2020

   Northern hemisphere spring comes to an end and its summer begins on Saturday June 20st at 21:45 UT (4:45 pm CDT) when the Sun ‘reaches’ the celestial coordinates of 23.5o north declination and 6 hours right ascension. With respect to the Earth’s surface the Sun is described as over the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5o, north latitude of the Earth’s equator. At this same time according to astrology the Sun is said to be entering the boundaries of the astrological constellation Cancer the Crab. Actually it is not. Interestingly about 7 hours later, June 21st at 9 UT (4 am CDT) the Sun will actually be entering the region of the Gemini Twins as it crosses the boundary between Gemini and Taurus.

   We know that it is the Earth’s orbital motion around the Sun that causes the sun’s apparent eastward motion among the stars in the background. This is how the Sun ‘reaches’ a celestial coordinate, how it ‘crosses’ the boundaries between constellations, or how it is ‘in’ a constellation.

   With respect to the southern hemisphere this is the end of their summer and start of their fall season. So thinking globally my preference has been to use the name of the month to designate the season change. Hence the use of the term June Solstice rather than summer solstice.

   
      
   

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