..1 Winter solstice - First day of winter
Dec 21, 2020
First day of winter in the United States! The sun's arc is at its furtherest point south, overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, which runs through Australia.
The sun's arc never gets overhead in the U.S. because we are too far north. It is overhead twice a year at the equator.
Earth orbits the sun 67,000 mile an hour, and its orbit is 585 million miles long. As Earth orbits the sun, its axis points in the same direction.
Earth's orbit is an ellipse. The Northern Hemisphere has winter when Earth is closest to the sun. The Southern Hemisphere has winter when Earth is furtherest from the sun, which explains the ice cap at the South Pole.
Earth's tilt makes the sun's arc appear to drift north and south during the course of a year. On one side of Earth's orbit, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the sun. On the other side, it tilts away from the sun. Midway between the extremes, the sun's rays hit Earth broadside, causing spring and fall. Everything on Earth came from the sun. Earth formed from stuff left over when the sun formed.
..2 Autumn equinox - First day of fall
Sep 22, 2020
First day of fall in the United States! The sun's arc is overhead at the equator in its apparent journey south. Days and nights are equal, 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness everywhere on the globe.
As the Northern Hemisphere tilts away from the sun, the sun's arc appears lower in the sky. Rays hit us less directly, and the top half of the globe cools. Living things compensate for the reduced energy!
The sun's rays hit the earth broadside on the first day of fall.
The sun is out to our side, not overhead. We see this by lying on the ground with our heads pointing north. The earth spins, turns & rotates from west to east as the sun appears to cross our sky, Our sky is the sun lighting up our atmosphere.
The earth tilts as it travels. On the first day of fall, we are in a part of our orbit where days and nights are equal. 3 more months, and we will be in a part where the U.S. leans away from the sun.
Earth's tilt causes the seasons. That we are close to the sun in January and far from the sun in July moderates our seasons.
Time - The earth rotates from west to east, meaning the sun is high in Louisville and Nashville before it is high in Las Vegas. Time is adjusted so that when it is 12 noon in Louisville, it is 9am in Vegas. There are 3 hours difference in our time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain & Pacific.
We got our way of measuring time from the Sumerians. They divided both time and circles into 60 units. We divide hours and minutes into 60 units. We divide circles into 360 degrees.
Our calendar rotates 19 words and 31 numbers.
..3 Summer solstice - First day of summer
Jun 20, 2020
First day of summer in the United States! The sun's arc is at its furthest point north, overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, which runs off the tip of Florida.
Seasons change because Earth's axis is tilted 23 1/2 degrees to the plane of its orbit. As the earth orbits the sun, its axis always points in the same direction. Earth is closest to the sun in early January and furtherest from the sun in early July. The difference is 3 million miles.
It is hotter in July and August than on the first day of summer because it takes time for the Northern Hemisphere to heat up. Conversely, it is colder after the first day of winter because it takes time for the Northern Hemisphere to cool off.
The sun is above the horizon 24 hours north of the Arctic Circle and below the horizon 24 hours south of the Anarctic Circle.
Earth averages 93 million miles from the sun.
Earth orbits the sun 67,000 miles an hour.
Earth's orbit around the sun is 585 million miles.
The 5 major circles of latitude are the Arctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, Tropic of Capricorn & Anarctic Circle.
..4 Vernal equinox - First day of spring.
Mar 19, 2020
First day of spring in the United States! The sun's arc is overhead at the equator in its apparent journey north. Days and nights are equal, 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness everywhere on the globe.
Earth's axis points in the same direction as it orbits the sun. Sunlight hits the earth broadside at the spring equinox. The sun appears higher. The Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the sun, and the top half of the globe warms up.
Earth revolves around the sun in 365 1/4 days. Its orbit is an elipse. Earth is closest to the sun at 91 million miles on January 2 and furtherest from the sun at 94 million miles on July 4. The Northern Hemisphere experiences summer when Earth is furtherest from the sun because it leans toward the sun.
The sun's arc passes overhead at the equator twice during a year, at vernal equinox and at autumnal equinox. Equinox means equal nights.
Bob Berman compared the Earth rotating and revolving to patting our heads while rubbing our stomachs.
..5 LEAP YEAR
Feb 29, 2020
People think of Earth orbiting the sun in 365 days. It actually orbits in 365 1/4 days. That is why we add an extra day to our calendars every 4 years. 1960 was a leap year, and that is how I figure it. If the number of years between 1960 and the current year is divisible by 4, it is a leap year. 4 divides into 60, 15 times. Leap year!
..6 JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE
Oct 1, 2019
The James Webb Space Telescope is an infrared telescope. It is Hubble's successor and will study long wavelengths. Infrared vision sees through gas and dust. The JWST will study the history of the universe back to the Big Bang. It is named after NASA's administrator during the Apollo program.
The Webb telescope will study the atmospheres of exoplanets. It will use the transit method, recording the dimming of light as planets transit their parent stars.
Jan 9, 2019
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite supercedes Kepler as the next exoplanet hunter.
..8 BARNARD'S STAR
Mar 1, 2019
E. E. Barnard discovered this red dwarf. It is 9th magnitude and invisible to the naked eye. At 6 light-years, only Alpha Centauri is closer. Barnard's star is in Ophiuchus and the fastest moving star.
..9 NEBRASKA STAR PARTY
Aug 6-13, 2018
I attended the Nebraska Star Party. I visited Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
10 GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE
Aug 21, 2017
There was a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. The path of totality crossed Lebanon, Tennessee, and I was there. The moon's shadow travels 1000 miles an hour, so solar eclipses last only a few minutes. The path of totality can be thousands of miles long and only 70 miles wide. Both the moon and the earth cast shadows.
Jul 28, 2017
Seven Earth-like planets were found orbiting a dwarf red star called Trappist-1, named after a telescope in Chile. Trappist-1 is in Aquarius 40 light-years away.
12 NUCLEAR FUSION AS AN ENERGY SOURCE
Dec 29, 2016
Nuclear fusion is the energy source of the future. Ocean water will provide unlimited fuel. We need technologies that make fusion electricity cheap. Many countries are working on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France.
13 ARISTARCHUS & ERATOSTHENES
Dec 23, 2016
Socrates, Plato, Aristotle & Ptolemy were wrong and contributed to Europe's 1400 year Dark Age. Two Greeks were on the right track: Aristarchus and Eratosthenes. Aristarchus knew the earth revolved around the sun. Eratosthenes measured the earth's circumference with amazing accuracy.
Aug 15, 2016
We live on a globe, a sphere. Earth is a large ball with a curved surface. It curves in all directions. We sense its curvature by watching stars as we travel north and south. Globes like the one my parents gave me depict Earth from space.
Lines of latitude run parallel to the equator, an imaginary line around the middle of the earth. The equator divides the planet into Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Lines of longitude converge at the poles.
The "midnight sun" is a confusing name for this phenomenon. The earth tapers toward the poles, and what we call the midnight sun results from this tapering together with our planet's 23 1/2 degree tilt.
15 FIVE CLASSICAL PLANETS
Jan 2, 2017
There were 5 known planets in classical times. Uranus was discovered in 1781, Neptune in 1846 & Pluto in 1930. Earth was thought to be flat and not a planet. The 5 classical planets plus the sun and moon gave us our 7 day week. Planets have Latin names, although the Greeks were the astronomers.
16 NEW HORIZONS @ PLUTO
Jul 15, 2015
The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto after traveling 3 billion miles. NASA got pictures. Nitrogen ice flows were the thing.
Feb 6, 2015
Earth passed between Jupiter and the sun, meaning Jupiter was opposite the sun, called opposition. Jupiter rose at sunset, was overhead at midnight & set at dawn.
Jupiter is closest at opposition, 400 million miles in 2015. Jupiter is at opposition every 13 months because that is how long it takes Earth to orbit the sun and catch up to it.
18 EARTH @ PERIHELION
Jan 4, 2015
Earth is closest to the sun this year on January 4. We call it perihelion. "Peri" is from the Greek, meaning near.
Earth is closer to the sun in January when it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It is further from the sun in July when it is summer. Earth is 3 million miles closer to the sun in January than it is in July. Earth orbits faster when it is closer to the sun.
Earth’s distance from the sun does not cause the seasons. The tilt of its axis causes the seasons. In summer, the U.S. tilts toward the sun. In winter, it tilts away from the sun.
19 TIMES ZONES
May 28, 2014
The earth has 24 time zones. They are 15 degrees wide. Multiply 15 X 24, and you get 360, the number of degrees in a circle. The U.S. was divided into 4 time zones in 1883. From east to west, they are Eastern, Central, Mountain & Pacific. As we travel west, it is one hour earlier in each zone. Louisville is in the Eastern time Zone, Nashville is in the Central Time Zone. Denver is in the Mountain Time Zone. Las Vegas is in the Pacific Time Zone.
20 JUPITER AT ITS BEST
Jan 5, 2014
Jupiter is at opposition and as close to Earth as it gets, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. Up all night! When we see Jupiter, we are looking at cloud tops. Jupiter's Great Red Spot is red because winds hundreds of miles an hour raise material to its surface. The Red Spot is a hurricane that has lasted centuries because there is no land to slow it down.
21 DAYS OF THE WEEK & MONTHS OF THE YEAR
December 19, 2013
There are 7 days in our week because of the sun, moon & 5 planets known to the ancients. Four gods from Norse mythology survive in our days: Tiu, Woden, Thor & Freya. Tiu was the god of war. Woden was the chief god. Thor was the god of thunder. Freya was the goddess of love.
Monday - Moon
Tuesday - Tiu
Wednesday - Woden
Thursday - Thor
Friday - Freya
Saturday - Saturn
Sunday - Sun
Romans named the planets after their gods: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter & Saturn. They named the months. There are 12 months because of 12 lunar cycles.
January: Janus, god of beginnings
February: februum, purification
March: Mars, god of war
April: aperire, open leaves
May: Maia, goddess of growth
July: Julius Caesar
September: septem, seven
October: octo, eight
November: novem, nine
December: decem, ten
22 JUNO HEADS FOR JUPITER
Oct 9, 2013
The Juno Spacecraft is headed for Jupiter. It will arrive in July, 2016. Planets are named after Roman gods. Juno was Jupiter's wife.
Aug 2, 2013
The earth rotates from west to east, making the sun appear to move from east to west. The sun is high in the sky in New York before it is high in the sky in Los Angeles. Local time is adjusted so that when it is noon in New York, it is 9am in Los Angeles. There are 3 hours difference in our 4 time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain & Pacific.
Comparing real time to psychological time, real time is objective. It is measured in days, months, years, decades & centuries. Psychological time is subjective. It is about how things seem, not how they are. For instance, time seems to go faster as we age. We might have a memory or an image in our minds and think, "That seems like yesterday," when in fact it happened years back.
People talk about biological clocks. These have to do with age and the number of years we live. Maturity is an ongoing process. An infant becomes a child, then an adolescent, then a young adult. He or she reaches middle age. Senior years and old age follow. Bodily changes occur. Some people live to be a hundred, but not many.
24 SUPERNOVA IN M74
Jul 25, 2013
A supernova was discovered in M74, a spiral galaxy 30 million light-years away.
25 JUPITER/MOON CONJUNCTION
Jan 21, 2013
I looked at Jupiter and the gibbous moon through my binoculars. They were one degree apart. It was a line of sight thing that made them appear close. Jupiter was 365 million miles away. The moon was 240,000 miles away. I looked at Orion's belt, M42 & first magnitude stars Betelgeuse and Rigel.
26 HARVEST MOON, September 29, 2012
Sep 29, 2012
Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. The moon normally comes up 50 minutes later each night. In the fall, a narrow angle between the ecliptic and the horizon causes the moon to rise 30 minutes later. Farmers use the extra moonlight to harvest crops.
27 BLUE MOON - August 31, 2012
Aug 31, 2012
A blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. The moon was full on August 2. Blue moons are not that rare, nor are they blue.
28 CURIOSITY ON MARS
Aug 6, 2012
I listened to George Noory cover the landing of Curiosity on Mars. Curiosity is the most complex rover yet. It is powered by nuclear energy and has 17 cameras. It is in the Gale Crater and will make its way toward Mount Sharp at the crater's center. Coast to Coast people anticipate fossils from a time when Mars was warm and wet.
Curiosity will analyze soil and look for a habitable environment. It will look for water, organic molecules & energy sources. Requirements for life! The rover is controlled by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
It seems inevitable that men will walk on Mars. I wonder about those who will make the trip. They will be special people whose whole existence is geared to that purpose. Our bodies and minds evolved for the purpose of surviving on Earth. We are not prepared by nature to spend 18 months in a cramped capsule far from home. There will be bone loss and danger from cosmic rays. There may be psychological problems. Astronauts will watch as Earth shrinks to become a dim light in the darkness. The Apollo astronauts did not have these problems. From the moon, Earth retained its identity even though Buzz Aldrin held up his thumb and completely covered it. The first man on Mars will be a hero! He will travel the world, lead parades and appear on television in every country. When it is over, he will seek privacy, shunning the public the rest of his life. After some years, weirdos will claim men never went to Mars.
When I got into astronomy, Mars was little more than a light in the night sky. Now, it is a real place with geography and geology. Astrobiologists maintain that water once flowed and fossilized microbes await discovery. There was that meteorite in the 1990s supposedly from Mars and containing fossils that turned out to be bogus. Imaginations run wild! The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey forecasted routine travel to the moon by 2001. Instead, we remember that year for the 9/11 attacks. When Carl Sagan did Cosmos in 1980, I thought men would be on Mars in my lifetime. Now, I doubt it. I question the benefits of going to the planets. It is rough enough going through airports here on Earth. At least, we can breathe on Earth. We cannot breathe on Mars.
The problems involved in going to Mars are great. It will not be like going to the moon. The moon is next door, a mere 240,000 miles away. There will be men die trying to get to Mars. I see both sides. Man has already started reaching for Mars and will not be satisfied until he gets there. The idea of terraforming Mars is fantasy.
If there was water on Mars, Percival Lowell may have been given a bum rap. The riverbeds may be his canals. Lowell's mistake was thinking they were dug by Martians. Geniuses have their areas of genius and fail outside those areas. William Herschel, the father of stellar astronomy, thought people lived on the sun.
29 BACK FROM BOLIVIA
Jul 22, 2012
I spent a week in Bolivia on Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America. There were 8 of us, and we were out every night observing the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. Skies were clear, and my roommate located 45 galaxies in a single night. We took day trips to Tiwanaku, a pre-Columbian archaeological site, and to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. The Andes and the lake were beautiful! They fed us at the hotel, and I ate llama.
The astronomy was good, and I learned. Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri are called the Southern Pointers because they point to Crux. Crux points to the South Star, Sigma Octantis. It is curious that Bcrux has a proper name (Mimosa) and Acrux does not. Alpha and Beta Centauri were the "eyes of the llama" to pre-Columbians. Alpha Centauri is a triple star with Proxima Centauri being the closest. Constellations are inverted in the south.
30 ONE DAY TO BOLIVIA
Jul 13, 2012
I am ready for Bolivia. I will be in the Andes at 12,000 feet. There are interesting things in the southern sky. The Magellanic Clouds are satellites of the Milky Way. The Coalsack is a dark nebula once believed to be a hole. There is Sigma Octantis, the south pole star seldom mentioned because it is dim at magnitude 5.4. Circumpolar stars circle Sigma Octantis like the stars of the Northern Hemisphere circle Polaris. I will again see first magnitude stars Canopus and Achernar & Crux the Southern Cross, symbol of the Southern Hemisphere. The Milky Way will be spectacular from Lake Titicaca! There are day trips, and I will participate. There will be 8 of us, and I will stay with the group. It is Nashville to Miami to Lima to La Paz. Coming back, it is La Paz to Lima to Miami to Nashville. 4 airports in 4 cities, flying 6 times. I will know my flight numbers, times & gates. I have my passport.
31 SOUTHERN SKIES STAR PARTY
Jul 1, 2012
I will attend the Southern Skies Star Party. It is on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, high in the Andes Mountains. It will be winter in Bolivia, and clear skies are a given. I will be with astronomy people for a week, and that is what I want. While others freak out over the Mayan calendar and the end of the world, I will be enjoying the southern constellations in the land of the Incas.
32 THE SOUTHERN STARS
Jun 14, 2012
I got into astronomy when I was 15, learning the constellations visible from Louisville and watching meteors from my parents' yard. I was aware of the stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere, but it seemed unlikely that I would get below the equator to see them. I kept returning to astronomy, reading books and subscribing to Astronomy Magazine. At age 56, I began exchanging emails with members of the Astronomical Society of New South Wales in Australia. The ASNSW was meeting for its annual South Pacific Star Party in March, 2002, and I set it up to attend. The party went on 3 nights at the dark site 150 miles northwest of Sydney. It was a dream I held on to for 40 years. I saw Canopus, Alpha Centauri, Achernar, the Southern Cross, Magellanic Clouds & the Coalsack.
33 TRANSIT OF VENUS
Jun 5, 2012
The small black dot crossed the sun in 6 hours. Venus spends 9 months in the evening sky and 9 months in the morning sky. When it goes from the morning sky to the evening sky, it passes behind the sun. When it goes from the evening sky to the morning sky, it passes in front of the sun.
There was a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the evening sky in March, 2012. They got closer than I have ever seen them.
34 ANNULAR SOLAR ECLIPSE
May 20, 2012
The path of annularity began in China, crossed the Pacific Ocean & made its way to Texas. During an annular eclipse, the moon is too far from Earth to completely cover the sun.
May 5, 2012
Supermoon is hype! The moon is at perigee, which means it is as close as it gets. The difference is only a couple thousand miles. Whether the moon is at perigee or apogee (furtherest point), our eyes detect no difference. The moon averages 240,000 miles from Earth.
36 FULL MOON NAMES
Jun 12, 2012
January - wolf moon
February - snow moon
March - worm moon
April - pink moon
May - flower moon
June - strawberry moon
July - buck moon
August - sturgeon moon
September - harvest moon
October - hunter's moon
November - beaver moon
December - cold moon
37 EARTH'S SHADOW
Feb 5, 2012
As the earth rotates, it spins in and out of its own shadow. We call it "night." People generally think in ancient terms, that the sun rises and sets. But rising and setting suns are illusions. The earth spins, turns & rotates from west to east. At night, we face our planet's shadow.
38 THE MOON LANDINGS WERE NO HOAX
Jan 5, 2012
I met Bart Sibrel in a Nashville bar. We sat in his car debating whether of not Americans walked on the moon 6 times 1969-1972. I was 23 when Apollo 11 landed, and I know it happened. I estimated Bart to have been in 4th grade. I did my best to convince him men walked on the moon, but his mind was made up.
I went to Bart's house for a Bible study. Several of us sat around the table discussing scripture. Bart and his group were living in the Middle Ages. Bart ultimately confronted Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, demanding he swear on a Bible that he went to the moon. Buzz punched him in the jaw!
Jan 4, 2012
There is talk of a multiverse. This is the idea that our universe may be one of an infinite number of universes. It answers the question, "What happened before the Big Bang?" The Big Bang becomes one of an infinite number of Big Bangs. Our universe becomes a bubble in an endless sea of bubbles.
40 BIG BANG
Jan 4, 2012
From what I understand, there was no "before the Big Bang." It was the beginning in the truest sense. If I told you what was before the Big Bang, you would want to know what was before that and before that. Your mind would play tricks.
In the beginning, there was only energy. Matter is frozen energy! The Big Bang created hydrogen, helium & lithium. The remaining elements were created inside stars and by supernovas. Why did energy freeze? Because the universe expanded and cooled. The same amount of energy had to occupy more space.
41 ASTRONOMY & DINOSAURS
Jan 1, 2012
Ideas have changed since the 1950s. It was thought that dinosaurs died out due to gradual changes on Earth. Now, it is believed that an asteroid collided with Earth 65 million years ago, wiping out not only the dinosaurs but 90% of all species. The mass extinction allowed for the rise of mammals and ultimately humans.
It was also thought that the earth and moon formed at the same time as a kind of double planet. Now, it is believed that a Mars-size object hit the earth in the early period of the solar system to create the moon. The heaviest part of the object sank into the earth as our planet reformed. The lighter stuff drifted out and became the moon. This explains why the moon has no iron core and no magnetic field. I like astronomy! The universe is vast beyond anyone's ability to comprehend it. It is said to have originated 13.8 billion years ago with a surge of energy called the Big Bang. Space and time are connected. When we probe the depths of space, we look back in time. More and more phenomena are explained in terms of collisions. The early universe was violent.
Evolution is fact. The deeper we dig into the ground, the simpler the fossils become. Life became more complex as changes took place over billions of years. The earth is 4.6 billion years old. Life began with something less than single-celled organisms. Over eons, it developed into what we know as fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds & mammals. We are mammals! Mankind has existed in some form for 5 million years. It is in the fossil record. Science proved it! I have seen dinosaurs in museums, and there is Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. Fossilized dinosaurs still in the rocks! Do theologians seriously believe Noah ushered kangeroos and dinosaurs onto a boat before it rained 40 days and nights? It is a story! A myth told by ancient Jews as they gathered around campfires!
42 MESSIER MARATHON
Apr 25, 2009
The Messier Marathon was a success! The sky was clear, and the night was warm. I hung out with a married couple and managed to observe 19 Messier objects. The Marathon took place at Spot Observatory, 50 miles west of Nashville. I thank Mark Manner for his hospitality!
43 KEPLER SPACE TELESCOPE
Mar 7, 2009
The Kepler Space Telescope was launched. It will search for Earth-like planets in habitable zones of their parent stars. Not too hot, not too cold, capable of supporting water and possibly life. With billions of galaxies, it is almost inconceivable that there is not life out there somewhere. We do not know! UFO stories are bogus. We will not know there is extraterrestrial life until it is found and people accept it as common knowledge.
44 FROM THE WALMART IN LEBANON
Jul 6, 2008
From the Walmart parking lot in Lebanon, I used binoculars to view Saturn, Mars & Regulus near a crescent moon. I noted the moon's terminator, separating day and night. I saw earthshine, that ghostly light reflected from Earth to the moon and back to Earth. The drama took place in the constellation Leo. Saturn, Mars & Regulus lined up like Orion's belt.
45 BARNARD-SEYFERT ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY
Jun 21, 2008
I attended a meeting at Nashville's Sudekum Planetarium and joined the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomy club.
46 TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE
Feb 20, 2008
The eclipse was eerie! I watched it outside my apartment at Vanderbilt. There were 50 minutes of totality. The best part was the partial phase when the moon began to disappear in the earth's shadow.
47 GRAND CANYON STAR PARTY, June 9-16, 2007
Jun 16, 2007
Michael and I attended the Grand Canyon Star Party.
48 VENUS AND CRESCENT MOON
May 19, 2007
Venus and the crescent moon rendezvoused in the west after sunset. It is the most beautiful sight in nature. Karen and I saw it from her apartment. Michael called.
49 TENNESSEE SPRING STAR PARTY
Apr 1 & 2, 2006
Karen and I went to this star party at Fall Creek Falls State Park. We sat with other stargazers and traced the constellations. Frogs croaked! A guy had his telescope set up and was showing galaxies on a screen from the rear of his vehicle. His technology was futuristic! The Whirlpool Galaxy M51 looked like an image in a magazine. We talked about the chances of life elsewhere in the universe.
M51 in Canes Venaciti is 23 million light years away. The small galaxy to the left is behind it. We know this because M51's dust is in front.
50 NEW HORIZONS TO PLUTO
Jan 19, 2006
The New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to Pluto. It will arrive in July, 2015, after traveling 3 billion miles. NASA will get images.