The Galactic Times Newsletter #1 - May 15, 2021

News, Calendar, Podcast, Astronomy in Everyday Life

In response to comments made during the 2020 run of The Galactic Times Podcast, a newsletter concerning sky events and sky news for the more general public is being offered!  It is meant in part to those who are also pandemically stuck at home and seeking sky information they can use for both fun and educational purposes. Also contained in this newsletter will be highlights from The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter, a successor to the magazine of that name that ran from 2009-2015 that contains articles and teaching tips for those who teach astronomy in schools at all levels, including home-school teachers.  The TCA information is free during an introductory launch period.  Note:  Only links in blue are active in the prototype.

I am Dr. Larry Krumenaker, a long-time astronomer writer and educator.  Welcome to my Universe!

In This Issue:

  • Astronomy News

  • Sky Planning Calendar

  • The Galactic Times Podcast

  • The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter Highlights

  • Astronomy in Everyday Life

Astronomy News

* Shadows near Moon's South Pole

            This is just interesting because it is a view we can’t easily see from Earth.  A video shows the movement of shadows near the Moon's South Pole over the course of two lunar days, which is approximately equal to two Earth months. It was created using data gathered by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.  Why care? Because the next series of manned US missions to the Moon are expected to go to the South polar regions, where some of these craters are in eternal shadow, and are believed to have abundant stores are water ice.

* Speaking of Mars probes….

As we went to press, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, which weirdly resembles both a mosquito and those rubber-band powered toy helicopters and balsa-wood prop toy planes of yore, made its first flight.  It went up. It hung there.  It came down.  Not bad for a planet with 1% Earth’s air and about 1/3rd Earth’s gravity. (Now it is four flights in and is, like a small child, starting to roam farther away from its ‘parent’ independently.) But it is a start.  I wonder if anybody is making toy models of this in stores yet. Or drones just like it……..Anybody??

Much more interesting is *hearing* the little copter…and Mars’ winds! They are faint, and the second half of the following recording needed to be amplified but these are the first sounds of a man-made object, and of winds on another terrestrial world.

Martian winds and Ingenuity's Blades

Now the copter and Perserverence itself are starting to separate and do their own research projects, though the two can’t get too far apart as the copter needs the lander to act as its communication central back to Earth.

* Red Giants Pulsing in the Spring Sky

In our current night sky, one might still catch a glimpse of Aldebaran, in the twilight near Venus and Mercury, and Betelguese to the left of them. High in the East, following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle downwards you’ll find bright Arcturus. All these are red giants, stars at the end stages of their lives, post-hydrogen burning stages, swollen, having eaten up their inner planets if they had them, cooled off considerably in temperature.

Betelgeuse made a famous splash last winter, dimming very noticeably. The others, noticeably quite steady. But many red giants do pulsate in brightness, some in quite large amounts, fading to invisibility once a year (Mira variables) and others by just a few tenths of a magnitude, barely obvious to a sharp-eyed observer. These can happen if not with an exact beat then at least with some regularity. Often these are caused by a kind of periodic blowing off of dust. These stars are cool and solid particles can exist in their upper atmospheres and be blown off, partially blocking their disks, and light. The stars can even swell and shrink a bit, which changes their light output. Many have very large star spots, akin to our Sun’s dark sunspots but covering sometimes huge proportions of surface area, again cutting back on light output.

But Polish researchers found a new source of periodic light output. Perhaps 5% vary because a planet remains behind within the surrounding stellar cloud of dust particles, accumulates a comet-like cloud of debris, and causes a secondary dip in brightness.

(picture, courtesy JAXA; original news item from AAS and Astrophysical Journal Letters)

* You want a piece of asteroid?

Vesta is a fairly easy minor planet to find in the evening sky, in Leo, in binoculars, not far from a nice group of galaxies, too. Some fragments made a nice splash in 2018 in Botswana, Africa, according to SETI researchers. Pieces were found there that contain the same elemental compositions that were found by the Dawn probe to the asteroid. What makes this more interesting was that the meteorite was also tracked in space before it hit Earth, as a small Near-Earth Object. Thus its orbit was traceable backwards and forwards, and its landing spot in the Kalahari Desert was predictable.

These pieces are not the first pieces of Vesta found on Earth. Others have been recovered as well, including a recent fall in Turkey.

Sky Planning Calendar


May 15-16      Moon passes 1.5 degrees North of Mars, which in turns makes a “V” with the Gemini Twin stars of Castor and Pollux; in fact, about matches the latter in brightness. Also on the 16th the Moon passes (occults) the star Kappa Geminorum. The time varies a bit depending on where you are, and is most best viewed for those in the Eastern USA with telescopes near Sunset or after.

May 19            First Quarter, lies East of bright star Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion. 

May 26            Full Moon, Moon nearest to Earth for the month (perigee) and thus (aaargh) a so-called Supermoon, not that we don’t have a biggest moon phase every month or that you couldn’t tell it from any other Full Moon (sigh). But this one is special. You might call it the Super Huge Rusty Because It is Over the Circular Pacific Ocean — and Eclipsed — Moon. See below.
May 30-31      During the overnight, the Moon passes four degrees south of Saturn (it is closest to the ringed world for Eastern Hemisphere viewers), and the next day it will be near Jupiter.  These Moon passages are a good way to find a planet if you’ve never located it before.

Super Huge Rusty Because It is Over the Circular Pacific Ocean — and Eclipsed — Moon

Yes, almost dead-center over the Pacific Ocean, and the prime viewing area is also there, if you have a boat handy. Those living literally on the Pacific Rim — any part of the Rim — have decent seats to see all or most of the eclipse. But this first total lunar eclipse in more than two years has some issues. First, being at perigee, not only is the Moon larger than average, the Moon is also zipping through the Earth’s shadow more quickly than average. Second, it is just barely entering the deep umbral shadow of the Earth (1). So the total phase of the eclipse lasts….14.5 minutes! The northern edge of the Moon will be still quite bright, almost as much as a normal Full Moon, but the southern edge rather dark. A bit of a distance around the Earth more and this would just be a partial eclipse.
To have any chance to see the whole, short totality, in North America, you have to be west of a narrow line that ranges roughly from east Texas to eastern Montana. Otherwise, the Moon sets during or before the process starts or completes. It is a nice view in Australia or New Zealand, though! And nearby is the red star Antares which you can use for a color and a brightness comparison standard (which is redder, brighter?).

(1) The shadow (indeed, ANY shadow) has two parts, the outer penumbra where some sunlight gets directly through, and the central umbra where no direct sunlight gets through, but refracted sunlight through our atmosphere does, hence the reddish color an eclipsed moon has.

For the future

June 10th. An annular (ring) eclipse of the Sun. Since this is just about two weeks away from the lunar eclipse, and two weeks from perigee (closest moon), it stands that the Moon will be about as small as it could be, on the next New Moon. So it won’t be able to fully block the Sun’s disk. And it will be most inconvenient, taking place over Canada and the polar regions. More detail in TGT #2.


May 17          The maximum distance Mercury will get from the Sun in the evening sky, and the Northern Hemisphere’s best evening show for the planet this year. It stands directly above more brilliant Venus by about 9-10 degrees (the size of your clenched fist at arms length) though Venus will be close to the horizon. Your best views for both are about 35 minutes after Sunset; Mercury a little longer afterwards. Binoculars AND a very clear, low sunset-area horizon are going to be most helpful.

May 28-29           Mercury, circling back towards the Sun, is less than a Moon-diameter (0.5 degrees for the latter) distance away from Venus. Best chance to be SURE you have seen both worlds—Copernicus supposedly never saw Mercuy in his entire lifetimes.

Mars in the Southwest sets before midnight now so with sunsets and evening twilights getting later, the window to find it is smaller and smaller. Jupiter and Saturn are rising in the Southeast after midnight, Jupiter an hour after Saturn. For all three planets, use the Moon as above to find them.

Border Crossing

The Sun crossed the border from the constellation Aries to the constellation Taurus on May 14th. It will be there a while.  Traditionally, this two week period is astrologically the sun sign time of Gemini, but that is not where the Sun actually is.  Obviously that horoscope stuff’s really bull…..

Need to know the time? Or directions? Use the Hermograph Wearable Sundial T-Shirt! Works as a clock or a compass.

The Galactic Times Podcast

Topic to be determined.  Listen to past broadcasts at, or most podcast directories, like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more!


The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter Highlights

This premium newsletter will be for paid subscribers only, but if you click this link, for an introductory time, you can read this for free!

  • Article--Software Review: WebbVR

A review of a virtual reality program meant for use as an instructional tool on this new (but LOOOOONG delayed) space telescope, and solar system and exotic stellar astronomy.

  • Connections With The Sky

  Events and Useful Activities that coordinate with your lessons

  • Astronomical Teachniques

Three things are all it takes to learn about the universe….

  • RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners

What’s in the scholarly astronomy education journals you can use NOW.

“Science knowledge and attitudes of lifelong learners in an astronomy massive open online course”

“Design and validation of an instrument to test students’ understanding of the apparent motion of the Sun and stars”

Astronomy in Everyday Life

            Yes, scientists do have a sense of humor.  You see, these really are titles to some serious scholarly research articles.  They were found on a YouTube video:

A Sleeping Beauty Awakens: The 1968 Agreement After Forty Years

            A 2008 article in Journal of Space Law on Recovery Objects and Astronauts

Black Holes: The Next Generation

            2019 article on merging black holes

Space—The Final Frontier for Economists and Elephants

            2004 Science journal article

Carbon Monoxide:  To Boldly Go Where NO Has Gone Before

            A 2004 biology article.

Snakes on a Spaceship—An Overview of Python in Heliophysics

            2018 computing geophysics article

One Ring to Multiplex Them All

            OK, not astronomy but had to include it…

Coming Soon!

Learning Astronomy Under The Northern Stars – A 365-Night Per Year Textbook

Use the stars that are ALWAYS visible to understand basic astronomy, stellar evolution, galactic structure, with the naked eye and common binoculars.  EBook (late spring) and print book coming (summer).  Detail description and advance orders link coming soon.

Federation Space – Where IS the United Federation of Planets?

Using science fiction to science fiction to learn astronomy … and vice versa.

By using the real stars mentioned in all the series of StarTrek, we can not only learn where the Federation, Klingons, Romulans and other civilizations would be location in our galaxy, we can actually learn about the stars and Milky Way.  This book will teach about how to locate the stars written in the episodes that can be found in the night sky.  Coming this fall!

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Thanks for reading. Until the next newsletter, stay safe.

Dr. Larry Krumenaker

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