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Remember all the hoopla about the total solar eclipse we witnessed in August of last year? There is another partial one today. This Friday the 13th solar eclipse will quite small and be visible mainly over the Southern Ocean area between Australia and Antarctica, so no media coverage here in the U.S.

My thoughts go back to ancient times and what we would now see as strange responses to solar eclipses. How terrifying must this have been to them?

In American Eclipse, there is the story of a Roman emperor who witnessed a total solar eclipse in A.D. 840 and was so upset by this “omen” that he stopped eating and eventually starved to death. Rome went into a civil war.

The Inca feared that a lunar eclipse was caused by a jaguar attacking the moon. They’d try to drive it away by making noise, including beating their dogs to make them howl and bark.

One more positive reaction occurred in the sixth century B.C., during a battle in Asia Minor between the Medes and the Lydians. The eclipse stopped the battle and it was believed that the eclipse was a sign for them to stop the fighting,

Certainly, ancient people looked at the eclipse and had their eyes damaged or were blinded. That certainly added to the fear. Don’t look into the face of God or the gods.

If you were a believer in 13 as an unlucky number and Friday being an unlucky day (more about that aspect here), then adding a solar eclipse made a trifecta of bad luck.

Also take note that solar and lunar eclipses always come in pairs, with one following the other in a period of one fortnight (approximately two weeks).

This is a New Moon supermoon today and is the first Friday the 13th solar eclipse since December 13, 1974. I won’t be blogging about the next one on Friday September 13, 2080..

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Well, Earth is at its most distant point from the Sun today.

This position is called aphelion That is a word that came into English in the mid-17th century as an alteration of modern Latin aphelium with a substitution of the Greek inflection -on. Originally, it was the Greek aphhēlion meaning “from the sun.”

But don’t it expect it to seem colder outside. In Paradelle, we are in the midst of a heat wave. It’s summer here and it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere which reminds us that  our distance from the sun is not what causes the seasons.

When the Earth is closest to the Sun it is called perihelion.

 

The name Strawberry Moon was used by all the Algonquin tribes for the June Full Moon that arrived today. The most popular name in Europe was the Rose Moon. (Strawberries are not native to Europe.) Both names reference the fairly short seasons for harvesting the berries and the blooms this month.  American Indians tended to use the more practical names of foods rather than the more decorative blooms.

This is the month when summer arrives in the North, the days are longer and the sunsets are later.  If you look up to the Full Moon tonight, it will be near the planet Saturn and the star Antares in the eastern sky at dusk and nightfall. As our planet turns, the three of them will move westward and climb highest around midnight, and be low in the west at dawn.

It would be Romantic to think that a rose or strawberry moon would be reddish in color, but when the Moon appears colored it is about atmospheric conditions and not the Moon itself and can occur throughout the year.

My youngest son was married this month and June has been traditionally a popular month to wed. The belief that the first month of marriage is the sweetest, gave us a “honeymoon.” Some compared marriage to the phases of the Moon – changing from the Full Moon of the marriage day and changing constantly, sometimes fuller, sometimes less.

The Brits who came to the New World may have known this as the Mead or Honey Full Moon which was a name more commonly used in Europe in medieval times. The heavy pollen of spring did make hives full of honey, and that led to the honey wine (mead) that was discovered by Irish monks during medieval times.

The mead acquired a reputation for enhancing virility and fertility and acting as an aphrodisiac. Perhaps, this is the true etymology of the “honeymoon.” I read that there had been an Irish tradition for newlyweds to drink honey wine every day for that first month of marriage.

The combination of strawberries, roses and honey are not a bad threesome for a romantic night, even if you are far from any true honeymoon.

NOTE: I am reminded by  earthsky.org that the bright reddish “star” near the Moon these nights is Mars, now very bright at the midpoint between your local sunset and midnight every night, and that by the month’s end, Mars will exceed the brilliance of Saturn by some 15 times.

 

The stars move with our seasons. For most of us, some move below the horizon and we lose sight of them for part of the year. But the circumpolar stars stay above the horizon all hours of the day, every day of the year. They are there now, even if it is daylight as you read this, they are there. there’s not a lot you can count on here on Earth – or even in the heavens – but you can count on them.

The Big Dipper asterism is the best known of the circumpolar groups at all latitudes north of 41 degrees north latitude. (That is the northern half of the mainland United States and most of Europe.)

The Big Dipper is part of a bigger constellation, Ursa Major or the Great Bear.

In Greek mythology, the god Zeus had fallen in love with the maiden Callisto. In a story that would make the news today, and get Zeus some bad headlines, Zeus got her pregnant. Callisto was a nymph in the retinue of the goddess Artemis. But she would not be with anyone but Artemis. Zeus disguised himself as Artemis and seduced Callisto. When the child Arcas was born, Zeus’ wife Hera turned Callisto into a bear in revenge.

Callisto wandered the forest for years in bear form, until a chance meeting with her son, Arcas. He was the king of Arcadia and a great hunter. He raised his spear to strike at the bear, not knowing it was his mother. Zeus stepped in and sent them up to the heavens with Callisto as the Great Bear and Arcas as Bootes the Herdsman. (Or maybe he is Ursa Minor, the Little Bear,  depending on whose mythology you follow.) Hera was not pleased that Zeus stepped in, so she wever, and conspired with the gods of the sea so that the Bear could never swim in the ocean. That is one explanation – totally unscientific – for why Ursa Major never sets

The Big Dipper is circumpolar, so it is visible year round. It is up in the spring and down in the fall. The pointer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper always point to Polaris, the North Star |  |  Image via Chris Mihos, Department of Astronomy, Case Western Reserve University

Where are you? If you’re with me in the Northern Hemisphere, every star north of the celestial equator is circumpolar, and every star south of the celestial equator is below the horizon. At the Earth’s South Pole, every star south of the celestial equator is circumpolar, whereas every star north of the celestial equator remains beneath the horizon.

And at the Earth’s equator, no star is circumpolar because all the stars rise and set daily in that part of the world. You can actually see every star in the night sky over the course of one year.

The June solstice may be the the official jump into summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but today kicks off winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Isn’t that amazing?

Summer slipped in at 10:07 AM UTC which is 6:07 AM in Paradelle (EDT) and I slept through it. It was near sunrise in the Americas, but noon in Africa, and sunset in Japan and Indonesia.

Here there was an early dawn and longer days are ahead with today being the longest day of the year. Sunset will be late. Nights will be short.

I have never been south of the equator. It would be quite strange to go south today and find winter upon me.

It would also be fun to be at Stonehenge where they celebrate the summer solstice. They follow the ancients who knew that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year.

If I could be at the Sphinx on the summer solstice, I could look at the two pyramids and see the Sun set exactly between them.

This astronomical event is caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun. Despite picture we saw and drew as kids, the Earth doesn’t orbit upright, but is tilted on its axis by about 23 degrees.

Right now our planet is positioned so that the North Pole is leaning most toward the sun.

Did you know that no official world body has designated an official first day of any season?
Summer began on June 1 in meteorology. At the New Jersey shore, summer starts with Memorial Day weekend. As a kid, summer started on the last day of school.

And if a kid (or adult) asks you why if this is the longest day, why is it much hotter in late July and August? Tell them it is the lag of the seasons. That is not that lazy feeling we get on a hot, summer day. The planet takes time to warm up after winter. There is still ice and snow in places in June. And the oceans take some time to warm as anyone who has already been to the beach in New Jersey knows.
already in the still blanket the ground in some places. The sun has to melt the ice – and warm the oceans – and then we feel the most sweltering summer heat. The melting runoff from glaciers will peak in July.

This past Memorial Day Weekend, we had some clear skies and some rainy ones. On one clear evening in Paradelle I was able to see a very bright “star” near the moon. It looks like a star, but it is Jupiter.

Venus sets in the west not too long after the sun sets, and the Moon and Jupiter were the two brightest objects in the sky.

I knew to look for a fainter true star. It is fainter but still one of the brightest stars, even in the moon’s glare. This is Spica. It is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. I’m not very knowledgeable about the zodiac, but I know it is a key star in that study.

Spica is a first-magnitude star, but it appears much fainter than Jupiter. That is because Jupiter is relatively close (or at least nearer)to Earth. This is what draws me to gazing at the night sky is my semi-knowledgeable way: the idea that Spica is about 262 light-years away, and I am looking at its light.

The universe makes me think about the original meanings of words like WONDERful and AWEsome.

Spica is the easiest star to spot in Virgo. There is a saying to find Spica you can “follow the arc of the Big Dipper to Arcturus and speed on to Spica.” But that probably doesn’t make it any easier for the average Earthling to find because most people know very little about the night sky.

Besides Spica, other bright stars in Virgo include many I had never heard of: β Virginis (Zavijava), γ Virginis (Porrima), δ Virginis (Auva) and ε Virginis (Vindemiatrix). Other fainter stars that were also given names are ζ Virginis (Heze), η Virginis (Zaniah), ι Virginis (Syrma) and μ Virginis (Rijl al Awwa).

Again, the wonder and awe of all this is discovering that one of the stars, 70 Virginis, has one of the first known extrasolar planetary systems and it contains a confirmed planet 7.5 times the mass of Jupiter. I can’t even really grasp the size of my own Earth. And the star Chi Virginis has one of the most massive planets ever detected, at a mass of 11.1 times that of Jupiter. And there are 35 verified exoplanets orbiting 29 stars in Virgo.

All this makes me feel like such a small part of the universe. But i also makes me feel part of the universe.

 

This first appeared on One-Page Schoolhouse

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