StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

APRIL  2021


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1285    APRIL 4, 2021:   Rebirth
Spring and rebirth always go hand in hand, so much so, that it is really a cliché that begs for a deeper meaning. We need to examine it further. • For rebirth, there has be a death first. A flower withers in the fall. Ruined gardens, stalks of once lovely plants like our dahlias and daylilies, move me to tears as I witness each fall the beauty of our garden dying with the first frosts and eventually the onslaught of winter. • This rebirth is also mirrored in the universe. Stars also go through life cycles too. They are born in stellar nurseries, large clouds of gas and dust where shock fronts from the death and birth of other stars affects their coalescence. Dependent upon their masses and the subtle, inward nudge of gravity, these protostars begin their journey from youth to decline. Our sun is approaching the middle of its 11-billion year existence, having been formed from the debris of as many as two former massive stars that each flowered, lived out their existences, and then ejected most of their masses back into the universe in fiery supernova events, only to be rekindled into new beacons of thermonuclear light. Our sun will not follow the same evolutionary path as its predecessors. In about five billion years, Sol will begin to expand into a red giant when it depletes its core hydrogen, finally settling into death as a white dwarf, a lifeless hulk of degenerate matter that will continue to cool for trillions of years. Before this happens, the sun in its red giant phase will bequeath back to the universe 30 to 70 percent of its hydrogen to be mixed with the primordial hydrogen of the Big Bang and supernovas to form new stars. More massive stars will go supernova, exploding in huge “fireworks” displays that can be visible to the edge of the universe, seeding their surroundings with all of the naturally occurring elements, the stardust that has allowed for the evolution of you and me. What remains after these titanic detonations are neutron stars and possibly even black holes, so massive, dense, and consumptive, that in the latter not even light can escape. Astronomers can see the remnants of supernovas, white dwarfs, and black holes, as well as evidence for how the demise of these objects represent the precursors for new life, which bring us back to humanity. • The ancient Egyptians believed in resurrection so much so that they prepared tombs for their remains, stocking them full of earthly possessions and even statuary representing the servants which would help them in the afterlife. They saw their existence mirrored in the newness and dying of the day and the seasons. Today, Christians also see a spiritual rebirth as many prepare to celebrate Easter. Those age-old concepts are at play here as 2.4 billion believers celebrate Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, His betrayal and death, and finally Christ’s ultimate triumph in His resurrection. The idea of resurrection/rebirth is imbued in our religious traditions, just like it is echoed in the universe. • If a new star can be reborn from the “ashes” of a star that has died, then perhaps we can too. In a way that is what “the resurrection of the body” means, dead to living; the grave is not the end. • That is a hopeful message for the arrival of spring, if you’re a flower, a tree, a star, or a human wondering about the universe from a decidedly unique and bold perspective. From the ashes of death springs new life.

1286    APRIL 11, 2021:   The Winter Journey
Decades ago, while perusing the British Museum in London, I came across the last pages of Antarctic explorer, Robert F. Scott’s journal, the final words that he wrote before he froze to death around March 29, 1912. Flanking Scott in his tent were his good friends, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers. Previously, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans had died returning from the Pole. Scott was just 11 miles south of One Ton Depot where abundant supplies were stored for their successful return from the South Pole. • Seven months later, the diary was retrieved by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the youngest member of the British Antarctic Expedition. Cherry, as his friends called him, wrote The Worst Journey in the World (1922), a vivid and humbling account of the Antarctic expedition of 1910-1913. In it is a chapter called The Winter Journey, where Cherry, Wilson, and Bowers embarked on a five-week trek across the Antarctic ice to retrieve Emperor penguin eggs from a rookery 70-miles distant. The goal was to discover the different stages of embryonic maturation in the eggs. • On June 27, 1911 they departed, three men towing behind them two sledges in tandem with a total weight of 792 pounds. Cherry writes, “It is midday but it is pitchy dark, and it is not warm.” Keep in mind that the seasons are reversed in Antarctica. It was winter. The sun never rose at 78 degrees south latitude during the entire five weeks that they were gone. • It took them 19 days to reach their destination, including a relatively short three-day blizzard in which they were hunkered in their tent. Throughout the outward trek the temperature was seldom warmer than -50 degrees F. During one rest period their thermometer read -77.6 degrees; consequentially, they continually fought against frostbite. The water froze inside of Cherry’s blistered fingertips, creating excruciating pain as he marched. His teeth cracked and broke from chattering. Cherry could not wear his glasses because every exhalation coated his lenses with a thin layer of frost, so in the darkened conditions, he was basically blind. Their beards by the end of a day’s slog were blocks of ice. As they sweated while laboring with the sledges, the moisture was wicked away from their skin only to refreeze in the next layer of fabric, making their garments as stiff as armor. On a warmer night, tucked deep within their reindeer sleeping bags, the ice in their clothing would melt, seeping into their bags. Clothing and bags would then refreeze within 15 seconds after emerging from their warmer tent. It sometimes took them an hour just to reenter their frozen sleeping gear during their next rest period because they had to melt their way into the bags. • They got within two miles of the rookery, pitched their tent, and over a period of several days, constructed a shelter made from stone with a canvas roof. Upon returning from the rookery, the group had to endure another three-day blizzard which destroyed their stone refuge, while blowing away their tent with supplies. Luckily, their tent was recovered a half mile downslope with most of their gear intact. They would have perished without it. Returning, the three staggered into base camp on August 1, 1911. Their frozen clothes had to be cut from their bodies. The moral of this story for me has been, no day, no week, or month could ever be as torturous as The Winter Journey. They recovered five Emperor penguin eggs. Three made it back to England. Photographs are below.

[Scott at the South Pole]
The not so happy British Antarctic Expedition Polar Party reached the South Pole one month after the respected Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had planted his country’s flag at the bottom of the world. Left to right Lawrence Oates, Robert Falcon Scott, and Edgar Evans are standing; Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson are sitting. Image by Henry Bowers, January 18, 1912...

[Members of the Winter Journey before departure]
Members of the Winter Journey before departure are from left to right, Henry Bowers, Edward Wilson and Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

[The Winter Journey party after returning from Cape Crozier
Left to right, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, and Apsley Cherry-Garrard enjoy a meal after returning from the Winter Journey.

Emperior penguin eggs]
Five Emperor penguin eggs were recovered by Winter Journey members. Three were brought back to England. Two eggs were broken in Cherry-Garrard's mittens when he slipped and fell on the ice making his way back to the rock shelter from the rookery.

1287    APRIL 18, 2021:   

1288    APRIL 25, 2021:   

April Star Map]

[April Moon Phase Calendar]