APRIL STAR MAP
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APRIL 3, 2005: Going to Tahiti?
Recently, I spoke with a good friend who is retired, and he noted that shortly he would be departing for Tahiti to view the solar eclipse of April 9. A few hours later, I was chatting with Tucson resident, Wendee Levy, the wife of David Levy, co-discoverer of the comet (Shoemaker-Levy) that crashed into Jupiter in 1994. “If we could know by March 30,” she exclaimed with a slight hint of a New York accent, “that would be wonderful.” My lips mimicked what I knew Wendee would say next. “On the 31st David and I are leaving for TAHITI to see the solar eclipse.” “Awe, that’s great,” I said, my left hand fumbling for the paper with the penciled in number of the guy who phoned, claiming to have invented a transporter. I do love solar eclipses, and this one is really a gem. Its path begins in the South Pacific near New Zealand on April 9 and travels northeastward across the Date Line and equator ending in eastern Venezuela on April 8. If you view this eclipse near its sunrise or sunset locations, the moon will appear just a tad bit smaller than the sun. Observers will witness, with the proper filters, a thin ring or annulus of sun surrounding the black disk of the moon, an annular eclipse. As the moon’s shadow or umbra sweeps across space, the curvature of the Earth will protrude towards the moon, making contact with the umbra to create a total solar eclipse. These types of events are called hybrids, and they are rare. The last one occurred on March 29, 1987. A good chunk of the Southern US sees a partial solar eclipse on the afternoon of April 8. Get more information at http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/. To add insult to injury, I live at the absolute northern limit of this eclipse and will see nothing. Where’s Scotty to beam me up when I need him?
APRIL 10, 2005: Two Kings
Two prominent kings are gracing our spring sky, the king of all beasts, Leo, the Lion, and the king of the planets, Jupiter. They are close enough together, so that if you have one in your sight, the other one will also be there. Finding Jupiter could not be easier, even in a city environment. Jupiter rises in the east about one hour before the sun sets. As twilight descends, Jupiter is the most prominent sky object other than the waxing crescent moon gaining eminence in the west. After 9:00 p.m. blue Spica, the brightest luminary of Virgo the Virgin, will be found below Jupiter. To Jupiter’s left, but three times the Jupiter-Spica distance will be orangey Arcturus of Bootes, the Herdsman. It is the fourth brightest star of the night, but still only 1/10th of Jupiter’s luster. Looking at Spica or Arcturus, you’ll notice them twinkling more vigorously than Jupiter. Planets shine with a steadier light because they have disks which are less affected by atmospheric turbulence. Stars are points of light no matter how greatly they are magnified. Shining with a steadier light and coupled with their brightness make distinguishing planets from stars easy. Above and to Jupiter’s right is the “Sickle” or backwards question mark that delineates the mane and head of the other king gracing the spring sky, Leo the Lion. Below and to the left of the head are the three stars that mark the Lion’s hind quarters. They stand out only because of the paucity of other bright stars in the area. Four thousand years ago, the Egyptians noted that the sun reached its highest position in this area of the sky. They believed that the heat of summer was the result of Leo’s stars and the sun combining their influences. What better star pattern than a lion to envision such power?
A two day old spring moon
graced the sky on April 10 from Coopersburg, PA. Note the earthshine reflecting off the unlit portion of the moon's face. Gary A. Becker digital photography...
APRIL 17, 2005: Death of the Venus Vampires
It is that time of year again when the Allentown School District’s fourth graders are gearing up for the one and only
Planet Quiz Show
. Each participating class is divided into two teams that must pick a captain and a co-captain and give themselves a cool, spacey name. Examples are the Funky Comet, Jupiter Kids, Energetic Earthlings, Ninja Stars, and the Pluto Pups. It goes on an on. Each student is given a list of nearly 60 questions for which they will be held responsible. The game is based on the
TV show with each squad becoming a family. When the kids come into the planetarium under the blaring music of
, their faces are resolute and often they are carrying signs showing them trouncing their opponents in a giant space battle. So which planet has the greatest number of moons and how many planets have astronomers discovered beyond our own family of nine planets? Bet you get it wrong; bet you get it wrong… In the
New Solar System
, a book that I used when I was in grad school back in the ‘80s, it was Saturn with 17 moons. Jupiter logged in with just one satellite less. There were no extrasolar planets yet confirmed. My 2005 Teacher’s Manual for the
Planet Quiz Show
notes Jupiter has the greatest number of natural satellites—63 in all. Saturn only has 34 moons. There are also 152 planets going around other stars in our region of the Milky Way. I just checked the internet and the answer to “the greatest number of moons question” is still valid. But in the last three weeks, the number of extrasolar planets has jumped from 152 to 155. Change seems to be the only constant in our universe. Check out the complete
Planet Quiz Show
package at the website below. And may the force be with you!
APRIL 24, 2005: Misquoted
I’ve had my share of fun working with newspapers over the years, spinning my tales about space and the universe, and being interviewed by reporters trying to get their features to press. Regardless of what others might think, there is a genuine desire to get the story correct. And for the right to write, the pace can be hectic, and the pay is without a doubt dismal. During this time period, I have had some funny misquotes, like the time my friends and I took our “microscopes” outside on a cold December 1973 evening to view Comet Kohoutek. I cannot reveal exactly how closely we scrutinized the comet that night, but we must have been almost down to the molecular level. Thankfully, the second edition got it straight to everyone’s relief and had us looking through telescopes. Then there was the time that I was quoted as saying that the speed of light in a vacuum was “186,000 miles per hour.” I had been quoted correctly by the reporter as saying “miles per second,” but the copy editor just couldn’t fathom a speed that fast and changed second to hour. More recently, I spoke about the solar eclipse in the Pacific and my envy upon hearing that several friends were flying to Tahiti to see it. The eclipse started at sunrise on Saturday, April 10 east of New Zealand and ended at sunset on Friday, April 9 in eastern Venezuela. The reason that the eclipse appeared to end before it began was because the moon’s eastward moving shadow crossed the International Date Line where a day is skipped. In vain I tried to correct the paper’s interpretation that the eclipse had to end on Saturday in Venezuela, but alas I gave up. There was some reward for this error, however, because no one called on Friday asking me for a fresh Saturday article. Maybe that was a good misquote.