We often don’t think about the sky above us as a part of the ecosystem other than when weather is involved. But it is! People have used stars and other objects in the sky for thousands and thousands of years to help them navigate, tell time, know when to plant crops, and create folklore and art. In fact, many animals use the sky for travelling and telling time!
Of course, the sky is also home to our Moon, an important force in many aspects of life on Earth. The Sun is also a vital part of life, as it gives energy to the planet.
Learn with us, with help from Jeff Hutton, an avid astronomer and Berea community member, about the sky above us and how it connects to the ecosystem and ourselves.
Click HERE for astronomical activities Jeff has written and shared with us.
Mars about as close as it ever gets!
October’s four principal phases of the moon
The Mars Month
Before the age when humans began to accept the natural world as being controlled by
predictable and knowable forces, the heavens were believed to be perfect and never-
changing. This was fine, as long as you weren’t too keen an observer. These folks might have
called a “star” that moved against the starry background something like “fake news”. But we
are a curious species and many people noticed that things in the night sky do change.
The image I used in last month’s issue was taken from my back yard on August 24. The map
on the right, provided by Nakedeyeplanets.com, shows how Mars ‘wanders’ though the
constellation Pisces in 2020 and 2021. This motion against the starry background is hard to
understand – without science. What makes it do that?
Go to http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/mars.htm
to see this map better.
Think of a NASCAR race, except that the race track is nearly circular. Also, all the cars must
stay in their lane and their speed is dictated by how far out their lane is from the center. I know, no crashes and no excitement. But we’re lucky the planets in the solar system follow those rules! Now imagine yourself in one of the race cars and you are going faster than the car in the next lane out. (Remember that cars the inner lanes go faster than the cars in the outer lanes.) When you are far away from the slower car you don’t notice much about how fast the outer car is going. As you approach the slower car and pass it, the slower car appears to be going backward. Well, it is, compared to your, faster car. When faster Earth, on its orbit, passes Mars, on its slower orbit, Mars appears to do a loop and goes backward against the starry background. As you might guess, when this happens the distance between Earth and Mars is especially small and Mars appears brighter than usual and through a telescope, both brighter and bigger! This is prime time to observe Mars through a telescope. If you are a scientifically-minded country, you choose this time to send robotic missions to Mars. On July 19, the United Arab Emirates launched their probe, called Hope, on July 23, China sent up their Tianwen-1 and the United States launched NASA’s Perseverance mission with the first helicopter to be used to explore Mars
Other Attractions in October
Let’s drag our gaze away from Mars long enough to sample some other celestial delights that
will be happening in October.
Are you too young to have seen Halley’s Comet when it last visited the skies in 1986? Here’s
the next best thing. Peaking on October 30 we’ll warm up some coffee or hot chocolate and try
to catch some meteors from the Orionid meteor shower. At the end of the month, Earth will
slide through the dust ‘contrail’ left behind by this most famous of comets. The “shooting stars”
you may see are remnants of Comet Halley. The meteors from this shower will appear to
come from the constellation Orion because that’s the direction Earth is headed on its orbit in
late October. There will be no moonlight to fade our view of the Orionid meteors. To see the
most meteors, try going to bed early and (ugh!) Set your alarm for about 3AM. Meteors are
best seen between midnight and dawn.
By the way, the correct pronunciation of Halley rhymns with “valley” not “daily”. We can thank
the 1950’s music icons, “Bill Haley and his Comets” for the incorrect pronunciation!
Feeling ambitious? Try to find the planet Uranus in the sky! It is bright enough to see in
binoculars that have front lenses at least 2 inches in diameter. It appears a little ways to the
left of Mars in October. The tiny blue disc of Uranus can be found by using this chart.
Jupiter and Saturn continue to rule the southwestern sky. Jupiter is the brighter “star” on the
right and Saturn is just to the left.
Watch for Mars and the Moon to rise together-a very pretty sight!
Mars will be nearer to the Earth than any time until 2035. It will be bright!
If you can be far away from city lights, look for the Zodiacal Light in the
east as a large tilted faint cone of light. Sunlight reflecting off
interplanetary dust makes for a ethereal display of light.
I took this picture of the Zodiacal Light last year in New Mexico.
The Orionid meteor shower midnight to dawn.
The “spooky” Blue Moon can be seen rising in the east at sunset. The
name means that this will be the second full moon in October. Sorry, it will
be white and grey, a usual!
For more detailed celestial information, check out skyandtelescope.org.
Click Here for a pdf version
Keep Looking Up!