StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley


110    OCTOBER 4, 1998:   Somersaulting Moon
The Moon is full this week (Monday), and while it continues to be so brilliant, you might want to engage in a curious little observation. It will require you to view the moon shortly after it rises in the east, and then again near its setting location, around dawn. It would also be helpful if you observed the moon around bedtime--10 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. The observations need not occur on the same night, but they should take place around the time of the full moon, which makes this week perfect. Notice the maria, the dark, waterless regions where most of the lunar landings took place. At moonrise they will appear to be pointed upward; by midnight, they will be more up and down; and by moonset they are slanted downward. This curious little movement is not a motion at all, but merely a consequence of Earthís rotation carrying astronomical bodies across an arcuate (curved) path in the sky. Understand the tilt of the moon, and you will come to realize that most movie footage of the moon is taken in the early evening, even if the scene is supposed to be occurring in the wee hours of the morning. Constellations follow the same convention as the American poet Robert Frost noted in the Star-Splitter. "You know Orion always comes up sideways. Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains..." When Orion sets, itís like he has just tripped and is falling face forward against the Earth--splat! If you didnít catch it, that last sentence was not Frostís.
111    OCTOBER 11, 1998:   Waning Moon
This week our attention focuses on the morning sky which receives little competition from the sun until about 5:45 a.m. Thatís because the nights are becoming longer, and we have not yet switched back to Standard Time. Incidentally, this happens on Sunday, October 25th, when the hours of 1-2 a.m. repeat twice. Hope youíre not working third shift. During the week the Moon will be a waning crescent for most of the time, and as such, it will allow us to find other objects quite easily. Observe between 5:30-6:00 a.m., but no later. Monday morning finds Luna (Latin for Moon) due south amidst the bright winter group of astral bodies. The three belt stars of Orion, the Hunter, will be below and to the Moonís right, while Geminiís Caster and Pollux are directly above. The days march ahead and so does Diana (Roman name for our Moon). By mid-week at dawn, she is in the southeast to the left of the Gemini Twins, and now forms an impressive equilateral triangle with Pollux (above right) and Procyon (slightly below and right). At the same time, the Moon approaches the star Regulus of Leo, the Lion, and the planet Mars right below Regulus. On Thursday, look east at dawn to see Artemis (Greek for the Moon) right above Regulus and Mars. By Friday, Selene is a very thin crescent right below Mars, but still more than two fists above the horizon. Call it what you will, Luna, Diana, Artemis, Selene, Cynthia, Delia, Hecate, or Phoebe, our Moon next to Mars and Regulus will be a pretty sight
112    OCTOBER 18, 1998:   Orionids Fly
Halleyís Comet makes a return debut this week. However, it wonít be in the form of a gossamer apparition with a long showy tail, but rather as fiery streaks of light created by tiny sand-sized particles ramming into the upper atmosphere of the Earth. Itís time for the Orionid meteor shower which culminates on Wednesday morning, but which will be visible to some extent all week long. You are actually seeing dust from the tail of Halleyís Comet which intersects the Earthís orbit in October and in May. The moon is new this week, so the meteors will have no natural competition to spoil their show. Your best viewing will be after midnight when the constellation of Orion gains some prominence in the east. The three equally bright and equally distant belt stars are easily noted even from the city. The bright reddish star, Betelgeuse, is to the left and above the belt. Orionid meteors will appear to diverge or radiate from above and to the left of Betelgeuse. From a country location youíll see about 20 meteors per hour on Wednesday morning--less on either side of this date. Orionids are fairly bright and move swiftly across the sky. About half of their number leave trails after their initial burst. Dress warmly, and use a sleeping bag and pillow for extra comfort. After midnight look east, about 1/3rd of the way up from the horizon. After 3:00 a.m., look southeast about 2/3rd of the way up in the sky.
113    OCTOBER 26, 1998:   Halloween Magic
Our observance of Halloween has some deep-rooted astronomical origins, and not just the antics surrounding the full moon which most of us may think about first. The time of the year is also important. Halloween occurs at a point in the calendar, midway between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice, and was one of four such quarter holidays originally celebrated by the Celts. The Celtic New Year began at this time--Samhain--now celebrated world-wide as All Hallows--Halloween. It ushered in the winter months, and as such was concerned with the dead. On this night the partition which separated the world of the living from the Otherworld was especially thin and penetrable. Christianity retaliated against these pagan traditions with the celebration of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2), but their purpose was nearly the same. Even our Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins may be traced back to the sky. The full moons of autumn can be extremely conspicuous, because they rise nearly at the same time during the days surrounding their full phase. The moonís orange glow when near the horizon, coupled with the darker markings of its seas, may have inspired the carving of faces onto pumpkins as a remembrance of this yearly occurrence. Happy Halloween!
October Star Map