astronomy

The Moon will be our escort across the dawn this week, like a goddess cascading down the stair of morning planets, and only slipping out of view on Saturday, February 2nd, which is this season’s Cross Quarter Day.

Mary Stewart Adams

With the Lunar Eclipse only just behind us, the big celestial news this week is the coming together of the planets Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky, looking east before sunrise. 

Besides the beautiful apparition of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky this week, the thing that will undoubtedly be most talked about is the coming Total Eclipse of the Moon, which will be visible across the United States, reaching maximum totality in the midnight hour of the eastern time zone.

The Crescent Moon is making a solo sweep up the evening sky this week, not meeting a single planet until it passes by Mars next Sunday.

At this great division of time between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, it’s comforting to know that from one year to the next, there will always be eclipses, and meteor showers, and, of course, Mercury will make its several retrogrades. But even with all this predictability, one year differs from the next pretty dramatically in the course of human history, so the trick is to find the unfolding narrative. 

The waning gibbous Moon is activating a centuries old traditional story this week when it sweeps past the Beehive Star Cluster an hour before sunrise Christmas morning, and then past the star Regulus at the heart of Leo, the Lion the morning following.

The Beehive Cluster was first catalogued in 130 AD by the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy in his “Almagest”. This fuzzy group of stars is at the heart of the constellation Cancer, and Ptolemy used a word to describe them that means both “hive” and “manger”.

The belt of the Zodiac embraces the Earth like a mighty circle of stars and is important to us because it’s only among this region of stars that we find the Sun, Moon and planets in their orbits. 

The Milky Way is also a mighty circle of stars that seems to wrap itself around the Earth, but because the the Milky Way is not on the same plane as the Zodiac, it appears to us that their paths cross one another. At Solstice this year, these crossing points will be uniquely activated by Sun and Moon.

Lucy and the sky: this week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Dec 10, 2018

The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks overnight Thursday, just as Comet Wirtanen is hurtling our way, the closest comet of the last century. 

At the same time, the planet Saturn, ancient guardian of the past, is following the Sun over the western horizon at the end of the day; while Jupiter, who bears the promise of the future, is sweeping into the morning sky at dawn.

The “culmination” of a star is when it is highest above the horizon of the viewer, and it can be imagined like a sacred sign that can be read, like an accent mark on a syllable. So, what accents are happening in starry worlds now?

High above the horizon in the south the constellation Cetus, the whale, is coming to its highest place in the sky. The most interesting star in this region is Mira, the miracle star; it marks the throat of the whale. Mira is a naked-eye variable, waxing and waning in brightness over a period of 11 months, and it just so happens that it’s reaching its peak brightness right now. 

There is a dynamic story unfolding across the sky in this season, more than can be fully explained in this brief episode of The Storyteller’s Night Sky, so here’s just some of it, first from the imagination, and then the intellect: 

The celestial Lion shook, and so loosed the royal stars from his ancient mane, signaling the sacred entrance of the Sun into the domain of the mighty healer where he is hidden there, hovering above the scorpion’s underworld. Before entering, Lord Helios summoned his messenger, drawing him near to bear witness to the encounter, while Beauty, steeping in the baths of abundance in order to amplify her amorous radiance, beckoned to her own messengers, sweet envoys of ethereal light; one from among the seven sisters; the other from the Dame Divine, that first woman Virgo, where she on celestial centuries reclined, waiting on noble deeds among men.

Recently, a coronal hole rounded the surface of the Sun, stirring up the solar wind so that, as the wind raced earthward, scientists posted forecasts for possible geomagnetic storms, the kind that can cause beautiful displays of the aurora, or northern lights. 

This year the mood is just right for a true Halloween experience, but only if you’re daring. The Sun will set early October 31st, the way it does in this waning season, and after twilight fades, we’ll have four hours of true darkness before a misshapen Moon emerges in the black pool of the midnight hour.

On Tuesday the 23rd, the Sun and Uranus will be on opposite sides of the Earth from one another ~ this is called an “opposition”, and it happens between them once a year. Uranus is moving through the region of Pisces stars and this is the best time of year to try to catch a glimpse of it with the naked eye, but not until after the Full Moon, which will happen the very next day on the 24th, when the Sun and Moon stand on opposite sides of the Earth from one another ~ but rather than calling this an opposition, we call it Full Moon, and it happens at least once every month. 

There’s a rare treat on the horizon this week when the planet Uranus makes its closest approach to Earth. This occurs simultaneous to its opposition with the Sun, and it means conditions are just right for catching a glimpse of the elusive planet with the naked eye. 

This week the dragon constellation Draco is host to a fickle meteor shower; thousands of years ago, it was host to the North Star. In between then and now, it lent itself to origination myths of King Arthur.

Every once in awhile there’s a particular line up that allows for a convergence of things historic and astronomic, and here’s how it happens this first week of October, 2018:

After the Full Harvest Moon Monday night, the Moon spends the rest of the week waning through its gibbous phase. “Gibbous” is the term we use to describe the phenomena of light on the Moon’s surface, when it makes the Moon appear convex on both edges, as opposed to one edge being concave, like at crescent phase. So what’s so unique about this now?

This month marks the 172nd anniversary of the discovery of Neptune, the only planet in our system that can’t be seen with the naked eye, and this week, it comes to its annual opposition with the Sun.

Adams resigns from Headlands Dark Sky Park

Mar 19, 2018
Aaron Selbig

The leader of Michigan’s only International Dark Sky Park has resigned. Mary Stewart Adams served as program director at the Emmet County-owned park for nine years.

Adams says a “difference in philosophy” with county leaders led to her resignation Monday.

“It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this,” says Adams. “My understanding was that we would stay in conversation with one another, and that while I needed to hear from them what I could be doing better, they also needed to hear that from me. But it felt very much like a one-sided conversation.”

 

This week’s Full Moon is not the Harvest Moon. Harvest Moon is the name given to the Full Moon closest to Autumn Equinox, and this year, that Moon will happen in October. So what becomes of September’s ull Moon when it’s not Harvest Moon? 

 

In some traditions, the September Full Moon is then known as the Wine Moon. This Moon will come to Full Phase at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, September 6.

So why Wine Moon? This may be connected to the region of the sky that’s settling into the horizon after sunset at this time. 

Megan Nadolski

Monday afternoon people can step outside and watch the solar eclipse. From our view here in northern Michigan, only part of the sun will be blocked by the moon – 75 percent. Peak coverage happens at 2:20 p.m.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope – it’s a meteor, or a fireball, or space junk...

A bright, unidentified object flying over Lake Michigan last night caught onlookers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan saying just that.

But what was it?

In this all-too-fast-paced era we live in, it's comforting to see something that's managed to stick around for 225 years – the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

What Massachusetts schoolteacher and bookseller Robert B. Thomas started in 1792 is still with us. The 2017 edition is now out.

Michigan native Brother Guy Consolmagno is one of 12 Vatican astronomers. He oversees the Vatican’s meteorite collection and was recently appointed as the director of the Vatican Observatory by Pope Francis.

A year ago, he became the first clergyman to win the Carl Sagan Medal, one of planetary science’s most distinguished honors. It’s given to the scientist who makes science accessible and understandable to the public.

Astronomy enthusiasts are gearing up for a viewing of the Leonid meteor shower, set to peak between midnight and dawn tomorrow.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City is welcoming a host of stargazers for one of the biggest meteor showers of the year. Mary Stewart Adams, program director at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, spoke with Stateside about the Leonids.

The shower is produced when a comet coming through our planetary system breaks into pieces as it approaches the sun, Adams says. The Earth orbits through the comet debris, giving the appearance of falling stars.

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