StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]


476    OCTOBER 2, 2005:   Evilest Queen of Them All
Last week, I spoke about Perseus, the Hero, who killed the Gorgon ghoul, Medusa, and with her head avenged Cetus, the Sea Monster, by turning him into stone, rescued and married the princess Andromeda, became king of his land, and shortly thereafter cornered the market on fine Greek statuary—and all this by the age of 19. Currently, Perseus is in the NE by 10 p.m. looking like an open “V,” but on its side like the “lesser than” (<) sign in mathematics. Above Perseus and visible right after dark is the sideways “W” which represents the chair in which Cassiopeia sits. See the online map included with this StarWatch. The evil mother-in-law and Ethiopian queen, who thankfully Perseus never got to know, sacrificed her daughter to save herself after professing to the world that she was the fairest of them all. This obviously enraged the Sea Nymphs, who everyone considered the belles of the ancient world and got their father Nereus so worked up that he sent a huge tidal wave to destroy Ethiopia. But the wave only killed peasants and left Cassiopeia and her palace unscathed. So Nereus appealed his case to Poseidon, god of the oceans, and that’s when Cetus was created to get the Queen once and for all. It almost worked until Cassiopeia was told by an oracle that Cetus would leave if she sacrificed to him her lovely daughter Andromeda. Perseus, returning home with the Medusa’s head still warm in the sack, was blown off course by the storm that Nereus had created and a ready made rescue was at hand. After the liberation of Andromeda the few remaining Ethiopians stormed the palace and used Cassiopeia’s long hair to sling her into a chair with a crooked back. Half of the day, she is upside down, a befitting punishment to the evilest queen of them all.

[Perseus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia]

477    OCTOBER 9, 2005:   Perseus' Double Cluster
During the last two weeks I wrote about Perseus, the hero, and Cassiopeia, the queen of Ethiopia. Perseus rescued Cassiopeia’s daughter, Andromeda, from being devoured by Cetus, the sea monster. The constellation Cassiopeia looks like a sideways “W,” with the open part of the “W” pointing left. The queen is high in the Northeast by 10 p.m., and Perseus lies just below, looking like the “lesser than” symbol (<) in mathematics. Between the triangular top of Perseus and the back of Cassiopeia’s chair can be found one of the true gems of the northern celestial hemisphere, the Double Cluster of Perseus. Stars are born in clusters. In the case of the Double Cluster, this happened rather recently, about 13 million years ago. Even from urban locales like the Lehigh Valley, individual stars in the Double Cluster can be easily resolved with binoculars. From very dark, rural areas the Double Cluster truly shines, looking like two distinct fuzzy patches of light. Use the trick of averted vision to help accent the duality of the glow. In other words, don’t look directly at the Double Cluster, but try to catch it with your side vision which is more light sensitive. The clusters, which lie in the Perseus arm of our Milky Way Galaxy, are each about 7,300 light years distant and probably formed from a single large cloud of gas and dust. The stars reside in a dusty portion of the Milky Way that substantially dims the light output of the 600 combined stars. If the dust between us and the Double Cluster could be removed, its brightness would rival the nearby Pleiades star cluster that can be seen to the right of Perseus. Just to the right of the Pleiades is ruddy Mars which I’ll be writing about in several weeks. A map can be found in the StarWatch section of the ULR posted below.

[Double Cluster of Perseus]
The Double Cluster of Perseus appears as two distinct groupings in this wide-angle photograph taken on the morning of August 6, 2005 from Bryce Canyon National Park in Southwestern Utah. Gary A. Becker digital image...

478    OCTOBER 16, 2005:   Go Postal!
Have you heard about the new constellation stamps being sold by the US Postal Service? They were issued on October 3rd, but are still available. My wife, Susan, was at the Coopersburg Post Office last week and heard about them from employee, Gina Lightcap. Of course, the next day I was there picking up five sheets of 20 stamps each. The Post Office started issuing astronomical commemoratives in 1948, beginning with the Palomar Observatory in southern California. In total over 100 stamps, cards, and envelopes relating to astronomy and space exploration have been commissioned by the US Postal Service, including the nation’s first hexagonal and round stamps, as well as the first holographic issue. The most recent constellation stamps are real gems, featuring a notable and easily recognizable star pattern for each season: Orion the Hunter for winter, Leo the Lion for spring, Lyra the Harp for summer, and Pegasus the Flying Horse for autumn. Combined with the artistry of the figures against a black starry background, make these commemoratives a truly stunning issue. My favorite stamp depicts Lyra, the Lyre (harp), being played by a wailing Orpheus. Orpheus lost his wife, Eurydice, to a poisonous snakebite. He used his instrumental talents to try to bring her back from Hades. After his failure Orpheus, playing rueful tunes on his Lyre, roamed the countryside. Women fell in love with him wherever he traveled, but he remained true to Eurydice’s memory. Several rebuffed maidens conspired to kill Orpheus, but his beautiful music caused the arrows they shot at him to be deflected. Only when the maidens shrieked and screamed loudly enough to drown Orpheus’ music did their arrows reach their target and put an end to his misery.

[Constellation Commemoratives]
These new constellation commemoratives are a beautiful way to say you love the starry heavens. In all, over 100 stamps, cards, and evelopes related to astronomy and space exploration have been issued since 1948. Some stamps, such as the Apollo-Soyuz series of 1975, and the International Space stamps of 1992, have been issued jointly with another country.

[Palomar Observatory Commemorative]
The first US stamp touting an astronomical motif occurred in 1948 and featured the newly constructed 200-inch Hale telescope on Palomar Mountain, southeast of Los Angles. Gary A. Becker collection...

479    OCTOBER 23, 2005:   Recovering Dyslectic!
I’m a recovering dyslectic! Recently, I conceived an exercise where students had to assemble the phases of the moon in their correct order. They start and end with a new moon, a black disk. In between the phases are waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, last quarter, waning crescent, and finally, a new moon. The trick is to get the portion of the moon which is reflecting sunlight on the correct side as the moon waxes (grows) and wanes (diminishes). Students are given two new moons, two crescent (horned) moons, two quarter moons, two gibbous (bulging) moons, and one full moon. Then they construct their own phase diagrams in teams of twos and threes. Initially there is chaos, but soon reasonable sequences are assembled with usually just one crescent or gibbous moon orientated incorrectly. In my Allen class Tasheka Steele and Aliza Moyer finished first and got a free point. But Lamar Long, Asia Stinson, and Jovon Sutphin protested. I ignored them and carefully sketched the phases on the board, coloring in the shapes that were reflecting sunlight. Long’s hand shot up. “You did the waning part backwards, Mr. Becker.” I looked at the board; white and black now were reversed in my mind. “You’re right Lamar,” I retorted. Your team gets a point too.” I redrew, but behind me I could hear expressions of exasperation. I turned around with that piercing teacher glare. Lamar’s hand was up again. “We were wrong, Mr. Becker. You were correct the first time.” I looked at the board. Every phase now looked scrambled. My brain was reduced to jelly. I was at the mercy of the mob, but the mob was kind. My pupils helped me regain my footing and battle back my dyslexia. Everyone in my Allen class got a point that day, including me.

[Unsorted Moons]
Unsorted Moon Phases:   Can you put these moon phases in their correct order starting and ending with a new moon? The answer can be found at the bottom of this page. Gary A. Becker graphics...

480    OCTOBER 30, 2005:   Red November
Red November is almost upon us as bright Mars takes center stage for another close encounter with the Earth. The last time this happened was on the morning of August 27, 2003 when the Earth-Mars distance was a scant 34.65 million miles, the closest our planet had been to the Red World for approximately 60,000 years. This time, we are not setting any records, but our 43 million mile separation, which will occur at 11 p.m. EST tonight, is not shabby by any means. Mars eclipsed Jupiter as the fourth brightest celestial object on October 1. This means that Mars is easily viewed from urban centers as well. The Red Planet, which has a distinct orangey, Halloween tinge, will remain brighter than Jupiter throughout most of November, relinquishing its title around the 26th of the month. So now is the time to get out and view Mars. You simply can’t miss it. By 8:00 p.m., Mars is already high enough above the eastern horizon to be viewed without difficulty, even against the backdrop of buildings and city lights. If you own a telescope, wait until Mars is higher in the sky. The greater the altitude of Mars, the less atmosphere your telescope will have to peer through, and the steadier the image should be. This week around midnight, Mars is highest in altitude, about 65 degrees above the southern horizon. Contrast this to a maximum altitude of just over 30 degrees during Mars’ close passage in 2003, and you can easily understand why this Mars encounter is equally important. Mars’ smaller size will be compensated by its higher altitude, allowing observers to witness details similar to what was seen in 2003. The byword, however, for making telescopic observations of the planets is patience and waiting for that moment of steady air.

October Star Map

October Moon Phase Calendar

[Sorted Moons]
Here are the moon phases in their correct order:   1) new moon, 2) waxing crescent, 3) first quarter, 4) waxing gibbous, 5) full moon, 6) waning gibbous, 7) last quarter, 8) waning crescent, and finally, 9) a new moon. Gary A. Becker graphics...