The Galactic Times Newsletter #2 - June 1 - 15, 2021

News, Skygazing Calendar, Podcast

The May 26 Lunar Eclipse, photographed from Australia by subscriber Robert Eddie.

Welcome to the second issue of The Galactic Times Newsletter! 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: 

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 News

* Rover! Come Here!

We’re talking about Mars missions, not dogs. China landed its first Mars rover/lander, called Zhurong, this past week, carried to the red planet by its first Mars probe, Tianwen.  Tiawen/Zhurong is the third one this Mars launch season (these come in two-year bursts because of the orbital arrangements of Earth and Mars). This makes it the sixth nation/space entity to reach that world, after the USSR/Russia (though most of its have been failures or joint with ESA), the USA, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with its own first success in February, called Hope.

Which does beg the question—what is actually operational up there now? There have been numerous probes to Mars since the 1960s, starting with flyby missions, and many have been failures—the Martian curse, particularly for the Soviet Union missions, though they get credit for the first probes to actually reach the planet, albeit as failures. After doing a little research, here is what was found—

  • The following rovers are crawling around in Martian dirt:

Oldest is Curiosity, with dirt in its treads from 2011.
Beating Zhurong to the ground was Perseverance, in February 2021.

Older successful rovers Opportunity, Spirit and Sojourner now litter Mars’ landscape, grinding to halts in 2018, 2010, and 1997, respectively.

  • An active non-rover (lander), Insight, is still going, since 2018, taking seismic measures, among other things. 

    There are a fair number of inactive landers scattered on Mars: the Soviet Union’s Mars 3, Prop-M, Mars 6; the USA’s Vikings 1 and 2, Pathfinder and Phoenix, and ESA’s Mars Express Lander.

  • Active in the air:  Ingenuity—Perseverence’s little demonstration helicopter.

  • Active in orbit are:

UAE’s Hope and China’s Tianwen, both 2021.
ESA ExoMars Mission’s Trace Gas Orbiter, since 2016.
India’s Mars Orbiter and the NASA MAVEN (atmosphere monitor) mission, since 2013.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, since 2005.
ESA Mars Express, since 2003.

And the current Dean of operating Marscraft, NASA’s Mars Odyssey, from 2001.

* Meanwhile, about those giant planets…..

Jupiter and Saturn, at about 5 and 9.5 astronomical units(AU) from the Sun, are soon creeping into the evening sky. Are they normally placed in our solar system? Maybe not….

According to the 30 years of searches of giant worlds among the exoplanets discovered by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the general configuration of small worlds (i.e. Earths) near then giant worlds holds. But the giant worlds can often be found a lot closer in, with the bulk starting near 1 AU and out to almost 10 AU, then fewer and fewer out to 30 AU, like ours. Good thing for us ol’ Jove has no inner kin!

         Credit: California Legacy Survey/T. Pyle (Caltech/IPAC)

* It is ALWAYS meteor shower season now….

Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute authored a paper recently that indicates what some may have suspected….

If you have any interest in watching “falling stars,” especially during the second half of the year when the majority of the major showers—Perseids, Geminids, and others—are active, then you should also be aware that you CAN see meteors any other time, they just aren’t *shower* meteors. Astronomers call them sporadics. They seemingly come at random. You also know that that meteor showers come at different strengths, and last for different time periods, from a few peak strong hours for the Quadrantids for around a month for the various Aquarid streams. Usually, the shorter the time period for a shower, the stronger it is.

Take that in the opposite direction. The longer the duration of a shower, the weaker it is. What if you take it to the extreme? In effect, that is what Jenniskens did. With all-sky meteor cameras he monitored the sky for days and days and was able to calculate the orbits of incoming meteors by the usual triangulation and orbital mathematics known for a couple of centuries. And he found that by doing so, many of the sporadics correspond to the same values, of comets that come around in orbits that indicated they last were here around 2000 BC.

It is known that the longer the orbital periods, the more times in the past such a comet could have been visible in Earth skies, well, to Cro-Magnons anyway. And that means the small bits of ‘dust’ particles embedded in their icy snowballs have had thousands and thousands of years to disperse into wider disks of debris—meteor streams. More recent cometary passages mean narrow fields of debris, and stronger showers. Wider debris begats more dispersed streams, and longer lasting and weaker showers. Given a few tens of thousands of years, and you get debris streams that are so weak the showers are indistinguishable from apparently random appearances of meteors. Sporadics.

So whenever you see a meteor, unless you get lucky and see a piece of asteroidal debris entering our atmosphere, you’re seeing a piece of comet dropping in. It just may not be one that’s been around in a long, long, LONG time.

Sky Planning Calendar

Moon-Gazing

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.

June 1      The nearly Last Quarter Moon passes about 5 degrees South of Jupiter during the daytime. Use binoculars to spot Jupiter as a bright dot above and near the Moon during the morning hours (and, of course, during the predawn hours).

June 2      Last Quarter Moon

June 10 New Moon. Half a month ago our Luna passed through our shadow, now we sorta pass through its. Well, part of it does. See below…..

June 11-12 A beautiful early evening twilight scene!! The thin crescent Moon near Venus, below the planet on the 11th, above it on the 12th. For readers in the Eastern Hemisphere, you’ll find it close to the planet by a mere 1.5 degrees on the 12th

June 13 The slightly wider crescent Moon passes 3 degrees from unimpressive reddish Mars, no brighter than the stars of the Big Dipper high overhead.

June 14 It isn’t the first day of astronomical summer, but this is the date of the earliest sunrise for all of us near latitude 40 degrees North, give or take a few. That includes much of the US, southern Europe and Asia, a bulk of the world’s population. So it counts. Why? It has to do both with the Earth’s tilt AND the Earth’s elliptical orbit.

June 10: Weather Too Hot for You? Head to the Arctic for a Ring Eclipse (Partial Eclipse Details Here, Too).

The Moon passes directly between us and the Sun on June 10th, but because the Moon’s orbit is decidely elliptical, non-circular, its size varies and on this date it is smaller in apparent size than the Sun’s apparent size. (This, incidentally, is the same reason why we do, and do not, have so-called Supermoons every Full Moon, but that’s another story.) So when the New Moon passes in front of the Sun, it won’t cover the whole disk but would leave a ring of brilliant sunlight around itself. Having viewed such Annular eclipses myself, those rings are just as blinding as a full solar disk; you still need protection to view them!

Because THIS eclipse does not happen at exactly the instant of crossing our equator, the Moon’s shadow just barely transits our Earth—-over the Arctic polar regions. Where it may be (nearly) technically astronomically summer but hardly meteorologically hot, as it is here in Alabama when I write this. So, if you want a Ring (ahem), you need to be in the zone…..specifically, the north side of Lake Superior in Canada, to James Bay and southern Hudson Bay, across northern Ontario and Quebec provinces to Baffin Island, to the far NW corner of Greenland, across the long and empty Arctic Ocean, making final landfall in far eastern north shore of Russia almost but not quite to the Bering Sea.

[graphic: courtesy aas.org.]

If that isn’t a feasible travel plan, you can see a partial eclipse of some level in the following places: at Sunrise in northern and eastern North America north of a line from the Georgia-South Carolina border at the coast to the SW corner of Indiana, to the SW corner of Minnesota, to the northeast half North Dakota, and onwards across Canada to Alaska. All of eastern and northern Canada east of the “Ring” zone. Midmorning to midday across all of Europe and Afrida north of the Equator. Late in the day for Asia west of and including NW China and north of the Indian Ocean, including Russia west of that line.

[Photo credits: L. Krumenaker]

Cheapest way to safely observe the eclipse is a (1) pinhole, made by a pencil pushed cleanly through sturdy cardboard (or any other hole in an object, like holes in a kitchen utensil) or a windown shade, held perpendicularly to the Sun’s rays coming at you and the Sun’s rays coming through the hole aimed onto a white paper or screen. [Top picture used holes between crossed fingers.] Better way is (2) to aim ONE of the two ‘scopes’ of a pair of binoculars at the Sun—**without looking it through it!! Just wiggle it around until the bino’s shadow is smallest and most circular**—block the other one with paper, until a magnified image of the eclipse, focused, projects onto your screen. [Bottom picture.] You might see even some sunspots. NEVER LOOK THROUGH BINOCULARS AT THE SUN. IT WILL BE THE LAST THING YOU EVER SEE. Third best way is to buy Mylar sun viewing glasses. We recommend those from Rainbow Symphony.

For the future

Mars meets the bees, last week of June. More detail in TGT #3.

Solstice is coming up. In the next The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter, we’ll have a global teaching exercise you can use to measure the Earth during the Solstice, or maybe even other days.

Observing---Plan-it….                                    

Remember Mercury? That’s all you are going to do these two week—remember it. It is too close to the Sun, though if you have a really clear eastern horizon you MIGHT get a glimpse of it rising 40-60 minutes before the Sun at the end of the month. Not one of its better appearances in the dawn; better in July.

Venus, improving, though still setting doing evening twilight, see above.

Earth. Look down. Do so in the shade, it will be more comfortable in summer heat.

Mars, in the southwest, dimming, plus see above. It sets less than an hour after evening twilight ends on the 15th and only slightly more than that after Venus sets. It has one last hurrah or two in the next thirty days before disappearing into the dusky twilight in a couple of months.

Jupiter, preparing for its fall appearance, along with Saturn. Find the latter to the right of the former, rising before midnight now. See above to find Jupiter.

Solstice is coming! Check if it is on-time with the Hermograph Wearable Sundial T-Shirt! Works as a clock or a compass.

The Galactic Times Podcast

Exoplanetary Music

Johannes Kepler believed the planets moved with heavenly tones. Some have even created music with them, in modern recordings. But now some have done the same with exoplanetary systems. Tune in to The Galactic Times Podcast, approximately June 10th on your favorite podcast service to hear it, including (we hope!) the first ever sounds of 55 Cancri’s system!

—————————————————————————————-

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!

  • Connections With The Day Sky

  Solstick—Measuring the Earth’s Size on the Solstice——or any other day!

  • Astronomical Teachniques

Mmmm! The Milky Way in a bun!
Tactile Printing—Not Just for the Blind Anymore.

  • RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners

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

“The Curious Construct of Active Learning”


   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.


Writing this under those starry nights requires lots of coffee.  If you like The Galactic Times Newsletter, buy us a cup of coffee at

our Patreon page!

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This newsletter is (c) 2021 Hermograph Press LLC, Opelika, AL. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced without permission in any other medium, such as newspaper columns, webpages, blogs, etc. Please contact the undersigned for permissions, etc. Please do not feed the hungry lawyers…….

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

Dr. Larry Krumenaker

Questions, suggestions, comments? Email them to:
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