#43: - Whale of a Border Crossing - Ice on Mars' Equator - & 4 More Stories
TGT 3/17/23: This Just In--Glaciers on Mars Equator, Water Link in a Protostar, Huygens' Glasses; Sky Calendar--Planetary/Lunar Conjunctions, Good Photo Nights, Border Crossing--Pisces and Cetus.
Cover Photo - Moon and Planets on March 22nd
In This Issue:
Cover Photo — Moon and Planets on March 22nd
Welcome to Issue 43!
This Just In —
* The Glaciers of Mars
* Water in a Nebula
* Don’t Make Telescopes Without Glasses
Sky Planning Calendar —
* Moon-Gazing - Two Photo Nights with the Moon, A Planet and Stars (Cover Story)
* Observing—Plan-et - Planetary and Lunar Conjunctions
* For the Future—April’s Hybrid Eclipse; April Meteors
* Border Crossings - A Whale of a Crossing!
Astronomy in Everyday Life - Earthliness in Universe Life?
Welcome to The Galactic Times Newsletter-Inbox Magazine #43 !
Water, water everywhere, and I don’t mean just in California. Last issue we wrote about water on Mars, this time we talk about water that could still be there— underground, as shown by the marks of a defunct equatorial glacier. And how did that water get there? A star in Orion shows the missing link from interstellar space to protostar in its nebula.
Some advice, too. Don’t invent or make telescopes without glasses. See why in This Just In.
Meanwhile, the Moon enters the evening sky, and so does Mercury, and both have conjunctions with (other) planets, and star clusters (and the last with a planet) so there are ample opportunities for early equinox-time photography.
Some heads up on April sky events, included here!
Horoscopically speaking, we have a Whale of a teaching moment this half-month! Read about it in Border Crossings.
Lastly, there is no stopping commercialism….even in the early universe before Earth was even around. See Astronomy in Everyday Life.
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Publisher — Dr. Larry Krumenaker Email: email@example.com
This Just In —
* The Glaciers of Mars
From the SETI Institute, Remains of a Modern Glacier Found Near Mars’ Equator Implies Water Ice Possibly Present at Low Latitudes on Mars Even Today. “In a groundbreaking announcement at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held in The Woodlands, Texas, scientists revealed the discovery of a relic glacier near Mars' equator. This discovery raises the possibility that ice may still exist at shallow depths in the area, which could have significant implications for future human exploration. This discovery suggests that Mars' recent history may have been more watery than previously thought… .
“What we’ve found is not ice, but a salt deposit with the detailed morphologic features of a glacier. What we think happened here is that salt formed on top of a glacier while preserving the shape of the ice below, down to details like crevasse fields and moraine bands,” said Dr. Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute, and the lead author of the study.”
* Water in a Nebula
Speaking of water on Mars, how did it get there in the first place? No, not thinking about comets impacting Mars as it is presumed to do so on Earth. How did it get to them? For the first time we may actually be seeing a nebula around a new star-in-formation getting watered.
Astronomers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) announced a week ago that they observed water in the nebula around V883 Orionis, which is the nearest protostar to the Sun, located roughly 1,305 light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion. “We can think of the path of water through the Universe as a trail. We know what the endpoints look like, which are water on planets and in comets, but we wanted to trace that trail back to the origins of water,” said John Tobin, an astronomer at NRAO and the lead author on the paper in Nature. “Before now, we could link the Earth to comets, and protostars to the interstellar medium, but we couldn’t link protostars to comets. V883 Ori has changed that, and proven the water molecules in that system and in our Solar System have a similar ratio of deuterium and hydrogen.”
“This means that the water in our Solar System was formed long before the Sun, planets, and comets formed. We already knew that there is plenty of water ice in the interstellar medium. Our results show that this water got directly incorporated into the Solar System during its formation,” said Merel van ‘t ’Hoff, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the paper.
* Don’t Make Telescopes Without Glasses
Here’s an interesting, if too late for the observer, historical medical note. Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, Germany, researcher Dr. Alex Pietrow looked at the telescopes of Christiaan Huygens. The 17th-century Dutch astronomer is well-deserved famous for numerous early astronomy discoveries: he revolutionized the fields of optics, mechanics, timekeeping, and astronomy, inventing the pendulum clock, creating a wave theory of light, and notably, discovering Saturn’s moon Titan and the true nature of Saturn’s rings. But his telescopes, while good for the era, where inferior compared to those of other telescope makers. The equations he derived for his lenses, which otherwise were quite good, nevertheless were sub-optimal in helping others make good lenses themselves. They were especially poor at resolving close images, especially for those other observers. Why would that be?
Pietrow found that Huygens had no other basis for determining whether his refracting lenses were good except through experimentation and his way of testing was by using his own eyes. And that turns out to be the problem. If your testing equipment isn’t up to standard, then don’t expect the final product to be up to standard either. Apparently, Huygens’ eyes needed glasses.
“The difference between his equations and modern optics could be explained by prescribing Huygens eyeglasses with –1.5 diopters. This is likely the first ever posthumous eyeglass prescription ever, and done for someone who lived 330 years ago at that!”, says Alex Pietrow. “Huygens’ nearsightedness was mild enough to not cause any problems in daily life in the 17th century and thus remained unnoticed. A person with this visual defect can read fine at small distances, but has trouble deciphering letters that are far away. This is problematic in the modern world when recognizing traffic signs or driving a car, but 300 years ago this would not have been a problem. Even if Huygens was aware of the shortcomings of his eyesight, he would not have needed glasses.”
Alex Pietrow elaborates: “My theory is that because Huygens did not need eyeglasses in daily life, he probably did not think about it when making telescopes. So he unconsciously included this eye defect into his designs.”
For more on this prescription research, see Pietrow Alexander G. M., 2023. Did Christiaan Huygens need glasses? A study of Huygens' telescope equations and tables. Notes Rec. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2022.0054
Sky Planning Calendar
Moon passages by a star, planet or deep sky object are a good way to find a planet or other object if you’ve never located it before.
March 19 The Moon is not only at Perigee [a Super-Crescent Moon!] but also in conjunction with Saturn. Look for the planet to the upper left of the Moon. At closest it would have been 4-degrees but that would have been during daylight.
March 21 New Moon.
PHOTO NIGHT! March 22 During the US afternoon, Jupiter would be a mere half-degree from the Moon; in the Earth’s Equatorial and Southern Hemisphere regions, it would be behind the Moon. So in the American evening, see the very Young Moon to the upper left of Jupiter (and Venus above them both) and take a pretty picture!
March 24 Uranus is 1.5-degrees south of the Moon, just off the left tip of the crescent. Venus is below the Moon. Earlier in the day, in Africa and Asia, you could have watched the Moon pass over Venus.
PHOTO NIGHT! March 25 The Moon passes less than 2-degrees from the Pleiades. Another good night for a photo…
March 28 First Quarter.
March 31 Moon is at Apogee. A micro-Gibbous Moon….
Mercury is making a reappearance into the evening sky and does so in an challenging way. On the 27th is passes a degree and a half from Jupiter. While brilliant Jupiter should make it easier, both planets are only 15-degrees from the Sun so you have to spot it during a very brief and bright window around 30 minutes after local sunset. This won’t be one of Mercury’s best evening shows. The rest of this month it won’t get even as much as 40 minutes sky-time after sunset, and barely even that in April.
Venus, on the other hand, is having a glorious time in the evening sky, remaining up as much as 25 minutes after twilight ends by March’s end. Venus has conjunctions with the crescent Moon (24th) and Uranus this half-month. About that latter, it takes place on the 31st technically, but you can find the two close by for several days around that date, using a telescope.
Earth reaches the March equinox at 4:24 PM Central Daylight Time on March 20th.
As of March 19th, Mars is now only an evening star, setting before midnight, for the rest of its 2023 evening appearance, almost to the Fall (in the northern hemisphere). The Moon passes by it on the 27-28th, and over it the 28th but not if you are in the USA. More interestingly, Mars passes by the star cluster M35 in Gemini on the 30-31st; you can monitor its progress as it minutely passes its many stars just over a degree away.
Jupiter is about to end its evening show. Following the first week of the month’s conjunction with Venus, it has a close one with the Moon (occulted for non-Northern Hemisphere observers) on the 22nd and with Mercury for a couple or so days centered around the 27th.
You’ll find Saturn in the dawn, four degrees from the Moon on the 19th. It has returned to dark skies, rising an hour before morning twilight by the 24th.
And Further Afield….
It is near the end of the Algol evening eclipse watching season. Its eclipses cycle through the hours of the day and night. Most of the time Algol is moderately bright, magnitude 2.1, but every 2 days 20 hours and some change, it dims to 3.3. The entire eclipse takes about 10 hours from start to finish. For the winter and early spring, we list the evening eclipse apparition dates for easier scheduling. The thing to do is, of course, to compare the brightness of Algol to stars of known brightness on a periodic basis and make a graph of progress of the dimming and the light recovery and, in this case, try to find the time of max eclipse!
March 28 (near 11:00 PM Central Time)
For the Future
A month from now, specifically April 20th, the first eclipse of any kind for 2023 occurs. It is a solar one (ho hum) but a rare one (huh?)—a hybrid solar, i.e. a combination of total and annular, where part of the track of the Moon’s shadow completely covers the Sun, and part of it….doesn’t.
Hybrid eclipses come in a variety of combinations, where one end can be total and the other annular (the Moon is too far and thus too small to cover the whole solar disk) or both ends can be annular but some fraction can be total in the middle. Hybrids are both a function of lunar distance as a whole from Earth, and the geometry of where the shadow is going to hit the Earth’s surface. Sometimes the parts of the Earth near the sunrise/sunset zones are just too far for the umbra to reach the planet—hence, you get an annular eclipse, but in between, the umbra reaches the surface.
In this eclipse, it is mostly total, only the first and last few minutes of shadow track are annular, and these are over Indian and Pacific Oceans. In fact, most of the eclipse is over water. It touches land primarily in just three places, two in the East Indies and one tiny bit in far northwest Australia. For the latter, you’d have to go to Cape Range National Park, or the port city of Exmoor. That’s pretty much it. But go for it, GT Australian subscribers!
US territories? Pretty much the only place I could find was Guam, for a partial eclipse, 73%. But at least Americans don’t need a passport or visa….
Although the Quadrantids of early January are technically in the current year, most people I know consider them the last shower of the previous year. There then follows a long gap in the list of major meteor showers, until the April Lyrids. This year, the peak of the Lyrids may actually be worth a peek. More details will be in the April 1st The Galactic Times, but mark the date, April 23rd.
March is my favorite Ecliptic time. No, it isn’t because the traditional dates and the real solar dates match. The Sun is in Pisces for these 15 days. The horoscopes say it is there only for 4 days, then it enters Aries. A match for just 4 days, a dis-match for 11.
Why then? Because of March 26th. That’s the day when the Sun gets schizophrenic, when astrology gets very fishy, when people born on this date get split personalities and the Sun a split disc. Unlike all the other stars in our sky, the Sun is not a point of light (okay, okay, all the others might be incredibly tiny disks but not enough to make a difference here); our Sun is a disk of about a half-degree in diameter. The Sun’s center rides along the Ecliptic, that invisible line in the sky that mirrors the Earth’s orbit (and orbital plane). The constellations that the Ecliptic goes through make the zodiac constellations. Over a century ago, in Humankind’s inevitable search for order, we divided up the sky into zones for each constellation, gave them borders like our nations (only we don’t see them encroach and try to conquer other constellations, but I digress….) and a star on one side of a line is in one constellation and there it stays, for good.
But that solar disc….when IT reaches a boundary, it takes a little time to cross from one zodiac constellation to another. No big deal. As far as anyone is concerned it is where the *center* of the Sun is that makes a difference. If the center is in Aries, it doesn’t matter if part of the disc is in Pisces, we say the Sun is in Aries.
What if the border itself isn’t a perpendicular line to the ecliptic?
Part of the border between Pisces and Cetus the Whale comes right up to the line of the Ecliptic and touches it as a corner, with a vertical AND a horizontal pair of lines that both touch ecliptic. The Sun’s center is, momentarily, in touch with both constellations, and the Sun’s disk is in BOTH constellations at the SAME time. In fact, the Sun is partially in Cetus for about twelve hours….on March 26th (with some slight variation from year to year but we’ll skip on that technical issue).
That makes Cetus the 14th constellation of the zodiac. [What’s the 13th? Long-time GT subscribers and others know…..Ophiuchus, The Serpent Bearer, which has the Sun wholly in it for more days than Scorpius does, but we digress again….].
In all the years I taught Astronomy 101 classes and labs, and we had discussions on coordinate systems and constellations, talking about the zodiac constellations was always a fun class, and always worth a small ‘bet’ that students didn’t really know their true zodiac signs. The die-hards always took my bet up. As the zodiac signs have shifted because of precession and the zodiac constellations aren’t ‘twelve equal sizes,’ only 1 out of 7 will find their astronomical signs match with their astrological ones. I always win the aggregate bet. But also it is the new knowledge of finding people with the sign of Ophiuchus that makes it educational and stick with them. Regrettably I think I have only maybe twice found a Cetan in all these years.
If you go to the newsletter home page at https://www.classroomastronomer.com, in addition to tables of contents of issues and an index by topic and educational areas, you’ll also find links to various specific things, including a link to a complete table of the dates of all 14 zodiac constellations and the days that the Sun is in them.
Astronomy in Everyday Life
In this case, perhaps this picture should be entitled as the reverse of our column title…Earthliness in Universe Life? If the company named within does NOT jump on this, it deserves to be boycotted….
From a press release from the Keck Observatory, “It should be cold, but surprisingly, it’s hot! A team of astrophysicists using W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi have found a region of boiling gas in the ancient universe that’s hugging a galaxy protocluster called COSTCO-I. What’s surprising is the hot gas dates back to an era when the gas that filled the space between galaxies, known as the intergalactic medium, was significantly cooler.”
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