JULY STAR MAP
MOON PHASE CALENDAR
Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT:
JULY 6, 2003: Draco, the Dragon
One of my favorite constellations of the northern sky is Draco, the Dragon. Its tail begins just right of the handle of the Big Dipper, currently midway up in the NNW at 10 p.m., then arches high over the bowl of the Little Dipper and Polaris in the north. Following the winding tail of the Dragon is like following the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz. The eye just seems to hop, skip, and tumble gleefully from one star to another. But there is an ugly crash scene that awaits, and that occurs where the tail meets a small group of five faint stars that outline the tiny body of the Dragon. Where do you go from here? The secret during July is to look to the right of the arc of the Dragon's tail to find four stars that create a trapezoidal figure. That's the head of the Draco. By connecting the star of the head which is closest to the star of the body completes the picture of Draco-tail, body, neck, and head. Some people see Draco as a turtle, camel, alligator or a snake. Whatever works for you is fine. However, during the past dozen years or so, Draco has been my mystery constellation in the ASD Planetarium at Dieruff. I simply show Draco without comment and let my audiences guess at the star pattern. Whether the group is at a kindergarten or college graduate level of understanding, someone always, and I mean always, comes up with the Dragon. It gives credence to the concept that people separated by oceans and huge expanses of geography could have envisioned the same star patterns without communicating with each other. Presently, Draco is positioned about as good as it gets, high in the northern sky at 10 p.m. You can download a printable sky map by going to the URL listed below. Click on the "Web StarWatch" button, then July 2003.
JULY 13, 2003: Hercules, the Strongman
Lately, I have focused on the northern sky and the star patterns of the Dippers and Draco that are currently so well placed right after dark. Above Draco near the zenith lies Hercules, the Strongman, best known for his 12 labors, a series of "Herculean" feats that were made in atonement for the murdering of his wife and children. When Hercules committed these heinous crimes, he was under the spell of Zeus's wife Hera, queen of the gods and second in power only to her husband. To view Hercules, you are going to need a very clear, moonless suburban sky, or binoculars if viewing from the city. Maps are available from my website, www.astronomy.org. Click on the "Web StarWatch" button, then July 2003, and look for the "Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT" near the top of the page. Choose the zenith and the northern maps. The head of Draco, the Dragon, lies near the imaginary head of Hercules. However, under a dark sky the Strongman has everything else: arms, legs, and a grouping of four stars that represent his body called the Keystone. My technique for finding the Keystone is to locate the bright star Vega, in Lyra, the Harp, the head of Draco, the Dragon, and a constellation that looks like a "C" called Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Within this triangle of objects lies the Keystone of Hercules. Find the Keystone after mid-week when the moon is rising later. One of Hercules's 12 labors was to clean a barn that contained 3000 cows that had not been tidied in a year. Hercules accomplished the task without even using a shovel. With his bare hands he changed the course of two rivers, allowing them to flow through the barn. The gods were impressed, the people downstream, mightily distressed. More about Hercules in two weeks...
JULY 20, 2003: Humankind's Giant Leap
Today marks the 34th anniversary of humankind's first tentative steps of exploration on another world. With Neil Armstrong's first words ushered from the stark lunar landscape, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," humankind began its physical exploration of the universe. Many people have spoken about how frivolous it was to spend 40 billion dollars to return 840 pounds of lunar rock and soil samples. If that had been the goal of the Apollo program, it would have been a terrible waste of money, time, and talent. What really occurred was a concentrated effort by several hundred thousand individuals to invent the technology that would allow us to send humans to the lunar surface and safely return them to the earth. That technology involved a tremendous amount of miniaturization. From the calculator to the computer, cell phones, and all of the gadgets that we use that pack so much punch into such small volumes, give thanks to the space program. This explosion of new technology was also spearheaded by a nonmilitary governmental agency called NASA, which meant that these new inventions were immediately accessible to enterprising individuals and corporations to improve the quality of our lives. That is really the long-term payoff for us in continuing our exploration of the universe through robotic spacecraft and human beings. Let's truly be honest with ourselves. Few if any of us will be remember 100 or 1000 years from now. But if we survive as a species, the twentieth century, and more specifically July 20, 1969 will be remembered for all times and by all people who share in the same vision of exploration that rocketed us to the moon in the 1960s. I feel blessed to have been at least an enthusiastic observer.
JULY 27, 2003: Hercules and the Golden Apples
One of my favorite mythologies involves Hercules and the Dragon, Draco. Hercules was the son of Zeus, but his mother was a mortal woman. Needless to say, Zeus's wife, Hera, was ticked, but instead of inflicting her wrath on Zeus, she instead chose to make Hercules's life miserable. Under a spell cast by Hera, Hercules murdered his wife and children. To atone for these misdeeds, the gods presented Hercules with 12 labors of unimaginable difficulty, which if performed successfully, would clear his name. His last labor was to steal the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, Hera's wedding gift to Zeus. The apples were not Golden Delicious, but rather apples made from 24-karat gold. They were guarded by Draco, whose strength was legendary, and whom Hercules could not defeat. This time Hercules used his "smarts," and solicited Draco's good but brain-dead friend, Atlas, to help unwittingly in the plot. Hercules offered to take the world from Atlas's shoulder if Atlas took a basket, picked the apples from the tree, then returned them back to Hercules. Since Atlas and Draco were good friends, the plot worked like a charm until Hercules saw Atlas leaving the scene with the goods. "Atlas, get back here," Hercules screamed, and Atlas in a moment of total mental stupor returned. Hercules then told Atlas that the earth was hurting his shoulder and that he needed a pad to relieve the strain. Atlas offered to take the world while Hercules got his pillow, and Atlas is still awaiting Hercules's return. A very perturbed Hera punished Draco by throwing him into the sky near the North Star. Eternally visible, Draco was never allowed to eat, drink, or be merry again. Learn to locate Draco and Hercules at Web
, July 2003, found at the URL below.
Mars will be closest to Earth
on the morning of August 27 about 6 a.m. when it will be only 34.65 million miles away. Here is the current location of Mars just as dawn is breaking. Gary A. Becker graphics...