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.

Batter Up!!

   Wednesday March 25th the 5.5 day old waxing crescent Moon is in the region of the sky between the horns of Taurus the Bull and the upraised club over Orion’s head, in Orion’s hand. This is a familiar part of the sky to many as within the sky around the Moon’s location include more of the brightest stars (1st magnitude or brighter) than any other part of the sky or other season.

   However this is spring time (in the northern hemisphere) and spring time is synonymous with Baseball. So at times like Wednesday evening I like to think of Orion as one of the Kansas City Royals (choose your favorite) about to hit a grand slam.

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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.

Stretching the Sunlight

lion2lamb   The skies of March reflect the transition from winter to spring in the northern hemisphere, and is also the time when some say that “spring comes in like a lion and goes out lamb”. This has to do with the placement of the constellations Leo the Lion and Aries the Ram (not a lamb), as this graphic below is showing.
   This time change coincides with the season change and is seen in the sky with Leo rising in the east while Aries sets in the west. Between these two are the easily recognized stars belonging to Taurus the Bull, Orion the Hunter,and others that are associated with northern hemisphere winter night skies.
springforward   Time also shifts as we gradually transit seasons. The United States as well as other countries will make the shift from Local Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time on Sunday March 8th by setting clocks forward one hour. Hence we “spring forward” one hour.
   This adjustment was first proposed by an Englishman, William Willett, in his pamphlet Waste of Daylight, published in 1907. It took nearly ten years for the idea to catch on before it was passed into law by the United States Congress as the Standard Time Act in 1917. The entire country, U.S.A., was placed under Daylight Saving Time starting on March 30, 1918. This occurred during our involvement in World War I and the act was adopted in part to help the war effort by increasing the number of usable daylight hours and saving energy. At the close of the war, the act was repealed and was not reinstated on a permanent basis until the start of World War II.
   Over the years, the dates for the two time shifts has fluctuated but now due to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Daylight Saving Time, in the U.S.A., begins on the first Sunday in March and ends with the return to Standard Time on the first Sunday in November.

   It is Saving time, not Savings Time. Savings are what you do with money in a bank.

   
   
   
[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.

June Solstice

Sun's Apparent Motion Along the Ecliptic

Sun’s Apparent Motion Along the Ecliptic – from Taurus to Gemini

   Northern hemisphere spring comes to an end and its summer begins at 5:51 am CDT (10:51 UT) on Saturday 21 June as 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 the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation Taurus the Bull – but just barely. Interestingly about 9 hours later, (3 pm CDT – 20 UT), the Sun ‘will move’ into the region of Gemini 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 amongst 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.

   Follow the seasons by observing how vegetation changes during 1 year. The video below was produced by an Earth orbiting satellite operated by the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar Orbiting Partnership (NPP). It is a really interesting narrated tour of the Earth from orbit over a variety of geographic features and landscapes.

Just had to include this!!

Just had to include this!!

   
   
   
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 2014

shadowsGroundhog Day
   It has become a tradition in the United States to watch for a ground hog to emerge on the 2nd of February. We know this as Groundhog Day, an event that originates from ancient Celtic tradition. Groundhog Day was known as Imbolog, or sheep’s milk, a time for nurturing young sheep and planting spring crops. The belief arose that if Imbolog 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.

   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 ground hog, 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 overcast then no shadow would appear, and an early warm spring would be expected.

   So year after year, since 1898, crowds have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2 to wait for a certain ground hog 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 the 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. When skies are overcast, temperatures tend to moderate as clouds trap heat nearer the ground.

   
   
   
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 2013 Equinox

   Today is an equinox day meaning that for us in the northern hemisphere winter is ending and spring has sprung. 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 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!

  Northern hemisphere spring begins at 6:02 am CDT when the Sun reaches the celestial coordinates of 0 hours and 0 degrees as it moves northward along the ecliptic crossing the celestial equator. To learn more about the celestial coordinates click here to read a previous post about seasons and the equinox.

   Click here to see the online world sunlight map used to make the day/night graphic above.

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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Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.