A Sassafras Moon in Taurus

Tonight, our Moon will be full and that often obscures some stars or planets in its glare.  But the star charts tell me that Aldebaran, a bright star that forms part of the “face” of Taurus the Bull, and the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus’ “shoulder” should still be visible. I am away from Paradelle and near a dark ocean, so viewing will be different from my home turf.

The November Full Moon is often called the Beaver Moon or Frosty Moon. Back in Paradelle, frosty would be the right word to describe the weather conditions tonight.  I’m not in the Southern Hemisphere, but I am close today, so it feels more like spring than late autumn. In either location, this Full Moon shines in front of Taurus the Bull for this third and final full moon of our Northern Hemisphere autumn (or the Southern Hemisphere spring).

Sassafras albidum growing in Paradelle

We might also use one of the American Indian names for this Full Moon. I believe it is the Choctaw that call this the Sassafras Moon. Sassafras is a tree commonly found throughout the eastern United States that grows up to about 60 feet in height. The tree is also sometimes called cinnamon wood.

I’m sure that the native Americans observed deer and porcupines eating the leaves and twigs. Rabbits eat sassafras bark in winter. Sassafras fruits are eaten by many species of birds, including bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, gray catbirds, pileated and downy woodpeckers. Sassafras root and bark was used in cooking and also herbal remedies. The leaves were used for tea.

Sassafras was also a component is commercial sodas, especially root beer – hence the root name. The key word is was. Sassafras has fallen out of favor because the root bark contains safrole, a volatile oil that the FDA banned as a potential carcinogen in the 1960s. With the safrole removed, it can be legally sold as a topical skin wash or as “aromatic potpourri.”

Whether tonight will be wintry frosty cold or spring like warm, this season we are in runs from the September equinox to the December solstice.

In December, the full moon will occur less than one day after the December solstice, a nice combination, though we will miss having four moons in this season.

Taurus
Taurus as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London in 1825 as part of a treatise on astronomy.

 

 

A Starry, Starry Bear Comes to Earth

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.

Good Morning, Orion

As we enter the second half of summer, if you get up right at dawn, you can find “the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn” in the sky.  It’s a constellation that returns this time of year – Orion the Hunter.

Orion ascends in the east before sunrise, rising (as many of us do) on his side, with the three stars that form his belt – Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam – pointing straight up.

 

The Ghost of the Shimmering Summer Dawn.

At this midpoint of summer, I like to have some early morning views of the Atlantic Ocean so that I can see “the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn.”

Orion the Hunter arrives at the crack of dawn in late summer. Like most of use, he rises on his side, with his three Belt stars – Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam – being vertical.

As we move into hunting season and winter, this well-known constellation moves across the south during the evening hours. He is standing then and ready to hunt and those 3 belt stars in a horizontal line make it one of the easiest constellations to spot in the sky.

I was reminded this week of Orion by the EarthSky.org website which is one of my startup pages on this computer. It is a good way to be reminded to look up at the sky and a way to know what I might find there tonight.

I am also reminded that people write those daily posts. One of those people is  Deborah Byrd who created the EarthSky radio series back in 1991 and founded the site in 1994. She has won lots of awards for science and broadcasting and getting science to the masses. I think it is quite cool that she has an asteroid – 3505 Byrd – named in her honor.

The April Lyrid Meteor Shower


Time lapse video

The Lyrid meteor shower is active each year from about April 16-25, and we’re now approaching the peak of this shower for 2015. Their peak is typically around April 22 each year (late night April 22 to dawn April 23).

The radiant of the meteor shower is located in the constellation Lyra (The Harp or Lyre), near this constellation’s brightest star, Alpha Lyrae (proper name Vega).

The source of the meteor shower is particles of dust shed by the long-period Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.

These April Lyrids are the strongest annual shower of meteors from debris of a long-period comet, mainly because as far as other intermediate long-period comets go (200 – 10,000 years), this one has a relatively short orbital period of about 415 years. The Lyrids have been observed for the past 2600 years.

Still, it is a modest shower and often offers no more than 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak, but it has been known to have bursts of activity that could dazzle you.

This year the waxing crescent moon will set in early evening, guaranteeing a dark sky for meteor-watching.

Try to get out there from midnight until dawn.

meteor