StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley


114    NOVEMBER 1, 1998:   Bear Chase
If you follow the Dipper or Great Bear in the sky, you know that it wheels around the North Star, and its position after darkness can tell you the season. Native Americans told the story of a great bear that was pursued by three brave warriors. The first Indian carried a bow and arrow to shoot the Bear; the middle Indian carried a pot on his shoulder to cook the Bear, while the last Indian hauled a load of firewood. The handle of the Dipper represents the three Indians. The pot on the shoulder of the middle Indian is the nearby star Alcor, faintly visible even from the Lehigh Valley. In the spring the trio hunted the bear as it climbed into the sky. The first Indian got close enough to wound the bear in his side with an arrow. The bear, represented by the four stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper, ran, and the Indians pursued him--the drama of the chase wheeling around the North Star as the seasons played out. The Indians never gained a step on the bear, but the chase eventually found him low in northwest. There the arrow wound opened, spilling a little blood on the leaves of the forest, changing their green hues into the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn. During winter, the bear hibernated near the Earth, behind the trees of the forest. But in the spring, the bear rose again in the northeast with the three Indians in pursuit, and the hunt resumed all over again.
115    NOVEMBER 8, 1998:   Leonid Meteors Expected
About once every 33 years a ribbon-like swarm of debris trailing an obscure comet named Tempel-Tuttle passes close enough to Earthís orbital path to produce a spectacular display of shooting stars. These meteors are known as the Leonids, because they radiate from the head of the zodiacal constellation called Leo, the Lion. Meteors fell like snowflakes during the predawn hours in the Southwestern US on the November 17, 1966. Other parts of the world missed the main event, but were treated to heightened meteor activity. It was cloudy here in the Lehigh Valley. Now itís 32 years later, and the morning of Nov. 17 again poses the chance for a increased display of meteors. The favored geographic location for 1998 is Japan. Most professionals agree that Earth will miss the densest ribbon of particles, but we may be compensated by moving through a portion of the cloud which contains larger debris pieces. This could result in 2-3 thousand bright meteors per hour visible over the prime target area. Bets are on that the morning of Nov. 17th will be interesting for us too, perhaps as many as 30-50 bright meteors per hour, so city light pollution will probably not hinder their visibility to any great degree. View after 3 a.m. on the 17th. Look east about midway up in the sky. If the Leonids are flying, it should become obvious after 15-20 minutes that meteors seem to be radiating from a specific point in the mid eastern sky. Dress warmly, making sure that hands, feet, and head areas are well-protected. Much success!
116    NOVEMBER 15, 1998:   Pegasus & Jupiter
Straddling the southern sky at 8 p.m. is Pegasus, the Flying Horse. Created by Neptune, god of the oceans, Pegasus was responsible for carrying the beautiful Andromeda to safety after Perseus dramatically rescued her from the jaws of Cetus, the Sea Monster (also whale). The epic mythology of good versus evil was portrayed in the 1981 Hollywood movie, "Clash of the Titans." Elementary students will find the 118 minute PG rated movie quite entertaining. The Great Square, which represents Pegasusí body, is positioned about two fists below the zenith and is composed of four relatively bright stars which are visible from an urban location. If that does not provide you with an easy method of finding the Horse, youíll also notice a dazzling bright "star" about mid-sky. Thatís Zeus to the Greeks. The Roman equivalent was Jupiter. Its pure white luminescence is truly impressive on a crisp autumn evening. Youíll remember that Hercules was the son of Zeus and so was Orion. Married seven times, Zeus, the most powerful of the gods, really got around. By moving up from Jupiter two to three fists, you will be near the two most western stars of the Great Square. Continuing southward from Jupiter by two fists will bring you to a lonely star twinkling near the southern horizon. Thatís Fomalhaut of Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish. Donít forget the Leonid meteor shower which climaxes on Tuesday morning. Observe after 3 a.m. See last weekís StarWatch for complete details at the Net address given below.
117    NOVEMBER 22, 1998:   Andromeda & Saturn
Last week I spoke about Pegasus and its Great Square of four bright stars straddling the south with dazzling Jupiter below and lonely Fomalhaut near the southern horizon. Now look farther to the east (left) of the Great Square and youíll notice an arc of three fairly bright stars curving away from the top left star of the Square. What appears to be the back leg of the Horse is really the constellation of Andromeda, the Chained Lady. She was Queen Cassiopeiaís daughter. Shackled to a rock, Andromeda was Cassiopeiaís brutal sacrifice to rid Ethiopia of the dreaded monster, Cetus, who was ravishing her kingdom. The first star, Delta Andromedae is the faintest of the three and may be difficult to spot without binoculars from a center city location. But the next two, Mirach and Almach, rival the brightness of the beautiful luminaries which create the Great Square. They should be readily observable with the unaided eye. Above these three brighter stars are three fainter stars which similarly arc outward from the Horseís body and complete Andromeda. Below Andromeda and to the lower left of the Great Square lies Saturn, god of the harvest and known for the Saturnalia, the Roman feast which was celebrated just after the winter solstice. It currently lies in the obscure zodiacal constellation of Pisces, the Fish. Watch the waxing moon as it passes Jupiter on the nights of Thursday through Saturday. On Friday, it will be just a little over one degree away from Jupiter, an impressive sight indeed. By Sunday and Monday, the bright moon approaches and passes Saturn.
118    NOVEMBER 29, 1998:   Retrograde Motion
Both Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the early evening sky. Look South at 8:00 p.m. to view dazzling Jupiter below the two western stars of the Great Square of Pegasus, and Saturn about four fists to the left and slightly above Jupiter. On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday the waxing gibbous moon will be passing Saturn. Now look at Saturn with binoculars, and you will notice a fairly bright star just above and slightly to Saturnís left. Thatís Omicron Piscium of Pisces, the Fish. If you begin monitoring Saturn with binoculars every couple of days for the next several weeks youíll notice that the planet is moving distinctly towards the west (right) of Omicron while Jupiter will be plainly moving towards the east (left) with respect to the stars. This retrograde or westward motion of Saturn baffled the Greeks, but its explanation is really very straightforward. The next time that you pass a car or truck moving in the same direction as your vehicle take a harder glance at the vehicle youíre passing. You will notice that its motion with respect to your faster forward velocity will make it appear to be moving backwards. And thatís all there is to it. The Earth in its annual orbit around the sun has approached Saturn and is now passing it. Saturnís "reaction" to this motion is to appear to move backwards (westward) against the more distant stars like Omicron Piscium. Since Earth passed Jupiter about one month earlier than Saturn, Jupiter has already completed its retrograde motion (11/14) and is moving eastward with respect to the stars. Saturn ends its westward motion on December 30.
November Star Map