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Geminids in the northern hemisphere by Asim Patel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via commons.wikimedia.org

The Geminid meteor shower is a very reliable annual meteor shower that will visit us again in the upcoming week. It will peak the night of December 13 and early morning hours of the 14th and because there will be a thin crescent Moon, there won’t be much light to interfere with viewing.

The showers are caused by the object 3200 Phaethon, which is an asteroid, making this event one of the only major meteor showers not originating from a comet. Phaethon (a name from mythology) is an asteroid with an orbit that brings it closer to the Sun than any other named asteroid.

The meteors appear to come from (radiate from) the constellation Gemini, which rises around sunset and will be almost overhead by 2am. The best views should be between midnight and 4am.

If you’re lucky and you are under a clear, dark sky, you could see up to 120 meteors per hour. And to further make them easier to see, the Geminids are slow-moving dust particles when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere. They are only moving at 22 miles per second, but friction with air molecules will easily burn them up and make a nice incandescent glow for us to watch.

More at www.skyandtelescope.com

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The last Full Moon of 2017  came to fullness at 10:47 am ET.  It is a “supermoon” which, by a commonly accepted definition, is when a full moon comes within 225,027 miles (362,146 km) of Earth. It’s not that rare, and happens every few months. The two full moons on January 2 and 31, 2018 also count as supermoons and that double full moon appearance in a month means we can call that second full moon on January 31, 2018 a Blue Moon.

This early full moon of December was often called the Moon Before Yule by the European colonists who also knew it as the Oak Moon (Medieval English), Frost Moon, Freezing Moon, Christmas Moon (when it occurs later in the month) and Snow Moon.

A nice book to read kids for all the full moons is When the Moon is Full. It has lovely woodcuts and poems that portray the twelve full moons of the year. They use the “traditional Native American names,” so this month is the Long Night Moon.

This is classified as a “children’s book” but it will not be difficult to read and reread as an adult. There is also some factual Moon information included in the book, like defining a blue moon. The poetry text is by Penny Pollock with illustrations by Mary Azarian.

It should be noted that to say that the December full moon is called by Native Americans the “Long Night Moon,” an asterisk should note that there are many Indian names for the full moons because they varied by tribe and especially by location. It was also called the Cold Moon, Small Spirits Moon, When the Wolves Run Together (Cheyenne) Moon of Respect (Hopi) and the Shawnee washilatha kiishthwa or Eccentric Moon.

This year I chose the name Moon of Popping Trees, but I have also read that the Sioux of The Dakotas and the Cree call the first New Moon of the new year something similar, sometimes translated as Moon of the Cold-Exploding Trees (which doesn’t sound quite Indian to me).

Cold weather can actually cause trees to explode by freezing the sap. The water in the sap expands as it freezes and can create a pop or even as a sound like a gunshot from the splitting bark.

The Choctaw called this the Peach Moon and that name is probably appropriate to a tribe that originally occupied what is now Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. If you live there today, it just might be more a Peach Moon than one where trees are exploding.

Sometimes the Colonists later took on English versions of the Indian names. And the Native American Cherokee people called this the Snow Moon, as did the Medieval English. Much of  America gets snow this month, and even in the warmer Southwest the Snow Moon is the full moon when the first snows fall in the mountains. The Cherokee tell the story of a spirit being, Vsgiyi (Snow Man) who brings the cold and snow so that the the land can rest.

Beyond American shores, this full moon is also called Wintermonat (Winter Month), Bitter Moon (China), Heilagmonoth (Holy Month), Dreaming Moon and Big Winter Moon.

This year the Yuletide  will not be signaled by a full moon but by the winter solstice for 2017 which will slide into the Northern Hemisphere at 11:28 AM ET on Thursday, December 21.

 

 

Tomorrow, will be the New Moon when the portion of the moon we see from Earth is 0% illuminated by sunshine and so completely engulfed in the moon’s own shadow.

The moon has a day side and a night side, just as Earth does. Due to the angle between the sun, Earth and moon, we see different portions of its day side and night side as the moon phases progress. When it is waxing, we see more of its day side at night until it turns full.

The part of the moon that isn’t in sunlight is often called the “dark side of the moon.” There is a famous record album with that name. But because of the moon’s motion around Earth, the “night side of the moon” that we see from Earth constantly changes. That means there is a permanent far side of the moon, but there is no permanent dark side of the moon.

If you were to spend time in one place on the Moon, you would experience night for about two weeks, followed by about two weeks of daylight.

After billions of years of Earth’s strong gravitational pull, the Moon has actually slowed down so that it takes as long to rotate as it does to orbit once around Earth. It is “tidally locked” with Earth.

But “tidally locked” and the “far side of the moon” do not sound right for a song lyric, and Pink Floyd do say in that album’s final track, “Eclipse

And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

There is no dark side in the moon really
Matter of fact it’s all dark

Taurid Fireball and Aurora 11.03.15 0129hrs PST

Taurid Fireball and Aurora via Flickr

I’ll try this weekend in Paradelle to see the North Taurid meteors. They are not the best known of meteor showers, but they are long-lasting showers. They have a sister shower, the South Taurids, and between the two they run from late October into November.

Tonight is the nominal peak of the North Taurids and it should be strongest in the hours around midnight local time.

But this neighborhood is not optimal for viewing – too much light pollution from cities, and tonight the waning crescent moon in the sky from midnight on won’t help.

But as with many celestial events – Full Moons at noon, distant planets, distant stars, the Milky Way – even if I can’t see it, I find comfort in knowing where to look and that it is out there.

The North Taurid meteors’ radiant point (origin) is in the constellation Taurus the Bull. It is near the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, in Taurus.  But you don’t need a star chart to see the meteors as they appear all over the sky. The Taurids are known for having some very bright fireballs. A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus as seen in the morning or evening sky. That’s quite bright and very visible.

Taurus rises over the northeast horizon around 7 to 8 p.m. at mid-northern latitudes and a few hours later for the Southern Hemisphere.  Give them a look.

 

van Gogh

Did you know that the Big Dipper appears in Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone? He painted it in September 1888 at Arles.

The Big Dipper is an asterism – not officially a constellation – but part of  Ursa Major, AKA the Great Bear.

It is difficult, maybe impossible, for you to see the Big Dipper on a November night.  For those of you in the southern U.S. or a similar latitude around the world or in the Southern Hemisphere, the Dipper is below the northern horizon in the evening now.

Here in Paradelle and most of the northern U.S. it can be seen low above the northern horizon if you have a clear view without mountains or trees.

 

stars

The Big Dipper is seen as a Celestial Bear that comes to Earth in November by the Micmac Indians of  southeast Canada. The Celestial Bear’s arrival signals the start of hibernation season and it joins our planet’s bears in returning to their dens.

“Bye Bye Moon” is not meant to be a sequel to Goodnight MoonDid you know that the moon’s distance from Earth varies each month? I didn’t know that until this week, even though I know a lot about our Moon and I write about it at least once a month here.

Our Moon has a rather eccentric orbit and it is moving away from us at about one and a half inches per year. Scientists attribute this to tidal friction with the Earth’s oceans which also slows down how fast the Earth rotates, This lengthens our day by about 1 second every 40000 years.

Okay, it is not something we really will notice or need to worry about, but because scientists can do simulations, they can figure out that four and a half billion years ago when the moon was being formed,  it was only about 15,000 miles from Earth. Now, it is about 238, 831 miles from Earth.

Back then, an Earth day might have been only 5 or 6 hours long and there would be 1400 days in one year. More recently, at least relatively, around 900 million years ago there would be 480 days of about 18 hours each in one Earth year. That would certainly give us a very different lifestyle.

And projecting into the future, we would expect longer days but fewer of them in a year.

Even though we can’t observe these changes within a lifetime, it awesome and full of wonder to me that these changes are happening.

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Every end is also a beginning. First snow of the season.  Not enough to start the snowblower, but enough to start a fire. If you have to make shavings to start the fire, you may as well whittle something useful, then have a sip and do some #readingbravely in the snow. I’m the first human here.  Today. Sunset before a snowstorm.

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