NIGHT STALKING: STAR-WATCHING

NIGHT STALKING: STAR-WATCHING

by Stormy
This is the time of year when many interesting things happen. As we approach the Winter Solstice on December 21, the days are shorter, and the nights are longer and colder. The frosty nights make for some very interesting sky activity. More UFOs are reported at this time of year than at any other time.
The magnetic pole activity is increased around the Solstice, and there are some wonderful displays in the most northern regions. Sometimes these magnetic lights, known as the Aurora Borealis, are seen as they streak from pole to pole by those living further south.
These dark and frosty nights also enable us to see the Milky Way better. But to really see the stars well, you need to get away from the city, and visit the countryside where electric lights and streetlamps are rare. Go outside and look toward the most northern horizon. The Milky Way appears as a dense band lighting the sky with millions of stars, divided by a dark area with fewer stars. The Aborigines of Australia, refer to this dark area dividing the Milky Way as a river. Most of Europe and Western Asia say the Milky Way is spilt milk, or even rain. The Desna Indians of the Amazon called the Milky Way the ‘brain in the sky.’
There is a fascinating event that sometimes happens on the shortest day of the year if the moon is right! A year from now, on December 21, 1995, the moon will be new and it will be a very dark night. On December 22, 1995, the Winter Solstice, there will be the beginning of a thin waxing crescent moon which will not be seen at night. Either on the eve of or the day of the Solstice, go out at night between midnight and 2 a.m. to witness the sun bleeding over the North pole from the completely opposite side of this planet! The northern sky will appear rosy-red above the northern horizon.
I believe we’ll see this next year. I experienced this phenomenon on Winter Solstice, 1993, last year, and it was an awesome sight. I didn’t telephone anyone in the middle of the night to tell them about it, and I’m sure I have friends who were disappointed I didn’t wake them up from their warm beds to share the sight.
This year on the Winter Solstice, which is on December 21, the moon sets at 9:13 a.m. E.S.T. and rises at 8:03 p.m. E.S.T. This means the night will probably be too bright to see the bleed-over of the sun because the waning moon will be just six days past the full moon.
Keep an eye on the Big Dipper this year. Those in the north can see it fairly well. In the south it dropped below the northern horizon and is now rising back up, dipper first and handle last. If you can locate the Big Dipper (see previous issue, #11), you can locate the North Star, Polaris, and a star constellation known as Cassiopeia’s Chair (see diagram, this page). This time of year it changes from an ‘M’ in the fall, to an upside-down ‘B’ or Greek-looking ‘E’ in the winter, to a ‘W’ in the spring, and then a ‘B’ in the summer. Even in the most southern areas of the United States, Cassiopeia can be seen clearly throughout the entire year. In the fall, this queen sits high on her throne, only to get dumped off of it during the winter months. She certainly deserves it for what she did to her beautiful daughter, Andromeda! Cassiopeia is well-known for having chained her daughter to the rocks as a sacrifice to the ugly sea monster Cetus, which was actually a sea whale. Persus asks Andromeda to marry her and she will consent if he saves her from Cetus. Pegasus, Persus’s flying horse, saves Andromeda and she keeps her promise to Persus by marrying him.
Enjoy star-gazing this time of year. Watch for falling stars, and if you see a real UFO, keep your camera or camcorder handy!
Sources:
Krupp, E.C., Ph.D. Beyond the Blue Horizon, Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets. 1991. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY.
Pearce, Q. L. Stargazer’s Guide to the Galaxy. 1991. Tom Doherty Assoc., Inc., New York, NY.
Pennick, Nigel. Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition. 1989. The Aquarian Press, Hammersmith, London, England.

Raymo, Chet. 365 Starry Nights. 1982. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY.

The Hazel Nut

Astronomy Picture of the Day – Teimareh Petroglyphs and Star Trails

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is  featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 July 12

Teimareh Petroglyphs and Star Trails  

Image Credit & Copyright: Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)

Explanation: Engraved in rock, these ancient petroglyphs are abundant in the Teimareh valley, located in the Zagros Mountains of central Iran. They likely tell a tale of hunters and animals found in the middle eastern valley 6,000 years ago or more, etched by artists in a prehistoric age. In the night sky above are star trails etched by the rotation of planet Earth during the long composite exposure made with a modern digital camera. On the left, the center of the star trail arcs is the North Celestial Pole (NCP), the extension of Earth’s axis into space, with Polaris, the North Star, leaving the bright, short, stubby trail closest to the NCP. But when these petroglyphs were carved, Polaris would have made a long arc through the night. Since the Earth’s rotation axis precesses like a wobbling top, 6,000 years ago the NCP was near the border of the constellations Draco and Ursa Major, some 30 degrees from its current location in planet Earth’s sky.