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SKYWATCH with Jon Bell

Mon Nov 19, 2018     FARTHEST NAKED-EYE OBJECT                      

What’s the farthest thing you can see without a telescope? High in the northeastern sky this evening, you can find the answer to this question, but only if the skies are very clear, and very dark, and you know just where to look. It’s a very dim smudge of light that lies in the direction of the constellation Andromeda. But this small spot is neither little, nor does it have any physical connection with the stars of Andromeda, which are merely trillions of miles away. It’s not even a member of our Milky Way, but instead another galaxy, comprising 200 billion stars and approximately two and a half million light years away. One light year, the distance light can travel in a year, is roughly six trillion miles. So when you see the Andromeda Galaxy, you’re looking at something that is fifteen million trillion miles away – and that’s how far out your eye can see.


Two 20th Century American astronomers were born this month: Harlow Shapley on November 2nd, 1885; and Edwin Hubble on November 20th, in 1889 – that’s today. Both these men made remarkable discoveries about our Universe. Shapley discovered that our sun and solar system were not at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, but instead a little over halfway out, and that the Milky Way was much larger than anyone had previously thought, almost 600,000 trillion miles in diameter: big. But Shapley thought that the Milky Way was all there was to the Universe. It was Hubble who was able to measure the distance to the Andromeda Nebula, that is galaxy, some 15 million trillion miles away, which placed it far outside our own galaxy. Hubble also found evidence that the Universe was expanding, suggesting that everything began billions of years ago in what is now called, the Big Bang.

Wed Nov 21, 2018     WHY BUY A TELESCOPE?

You can spend lots of money buying a telescope and then be unhappy with the results. Before you buy one, ask yourself: what do you expect the telescope to do? If you want to see planets, nebulas and galaxies looking like they do in books and magazines, then you need the Hubble Space Telescope. We already have one of those, so you don’t have to buy another, just get the pictures, it’s a lot cheaper. The truth is that most small telescope views fall far short of the incredible images that we get from great observatories or space telescopes. So why buy a telescope? Well one of the principle joys of the telescope is the excitement of finding these objects in the sky, and knowing that they really are out there. A good starter telescope is a Newtonian reflector with a 6 inch mirror on a Dobsonian mount, which uses big one and a quarter inch eyepieces. Such an instrument should cost between 200 – 400 dollars. Begin your research on the internet.

Thu Nov 22, 2018     NOVEMBER FULL MOON

The moon is full tonight. The Celts called this one the Dark Moon, which recognizes the lengthening of the night as winter approaches. The Creek Indians call this the Moon When the Water is Black with Leaves, as in northern lands when leaves would drop from the trees and darken ponds and rivers. The Mandan Hidatsa people must have lived farther north, as this was their Moon When Rivers Freeze. It’s the Frost Moon for the Seminole people, and to the Tewa Pueblo this is the Moon When All is Gathered In - the late harvesting moon. It’s the Cherokee Trading Moon, and the Choctaw Sassafras Moon. But the Seneca Indians of western New York would call this the Beaver moon, in honor of Nöganyá’göh the beaver who, with the help of the fly  Oshë’da’, drove off the always thirsty Oyëtani' the moose, thus saving the drinking water for the other animals.

Fri Nov 23, 2018      HERCULES’ AUTUMN ZODIAC

Hercules was one of ancient Greece’s most revered heroes. Even the heavens were a veritable picture-book that chronicled his adventures. The zodiac reveals many of his twelve great labors. Soon to set after the sun are the stars of Sagittarius the archer. This centaur is a depiction of Hercules’ teacher, Chiron. Well-placed in the south are a scattering of stars which mark Aquarius, the Water Carrier. This is symbolic of Hercules’ releasing the flood of river waters that cleaned the Augean stables. High in the east is Aries the Ram, a representation of the golden fleece, which Hercules pursued with his good friend Jason while he was between labors. Nearer toward the eastern horizon is Taurus; this was a wild bull which Hercules subdued in a kind of a “capture and release” program. There are more constellations connected with Hercules, but they won’t show up in our evening sky until next month.

Mon Nov 26, 2018     BLACK HOLES PROPOSED                  

On November 26th in the year 1783, British scientist John Michell first proposed the existence of black holes, suggesting that there might be super-dense stars with powerful gravitational fields that could keep light from leaving them, rendering themselves invisible. This idea was far ahead of its time, coming as it did shortly after the American Revolution. But he was right, and only in the past several decades have we found evidence for these cosmic dead ends in space. There is a black hole above us tonight. Vega, Altair and Deneb, three bright stars that form the Summer Triangle are in the west sky this evening. We believe there's a black hole in the middle of the triangle – it’s called Cygnus X-1. We can't see it directly; these things are literally out-of-sight, but there is something there, because there’s an incredible amount of x-rays pouring out of this region, made, we think, by the black hole's gravity.


On November 28th 1660, the Royal Society was founded in London. It was made up of scientists and physicians, including such notables as Isaac Newton, who wrote the laws of motion and gravity; Edmond Halley, who successfully predicted the return of the comet that bears his name; Christopher Wren, who rebuilt London after the great fire of

1666, and Robert Hooke, who did pioneering work in microscopy. The Royal Society is active and strong today, with thousands of members from around the world. Now if you’re not part of this society, that’s okay, because there’s a local science club, the Treasure Coast Astronomical Society. It hasn’t been around quite as long as the Royal

Society, but its members are carrying on the great tradition of science and discovery, and they’re meeting tonight at the Science Center on the Fort Pierce campus of Indian River State College. The meeting is free and open to the public, and it begins this evening at 7:30 pm.

Wed Nov 28, 2018      GIOTTO AND THE STAR OF WONDER            

In the year 1301, the Italian artist Giotto di Bondone saw a comet. It was bright and glorious, but it had no name; centuries later it would be called Halley’s comet, in honor of Edmond Halley, who calculated its regular return every 76 years. In 1305, Giotto painted a fresco called, “the Adoration of the Magi,” which can still be viewed in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. Above the Creche, Giotto painted Halley’s comet, portraying it as the nativity star. Could the comet have been the star? This weekend Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium will investigate, in its twenty-sixth annual presentation of “Star of Wonder.” This year’s show features new imagery from digital graphics artist and recent IRSC graduate, Collette Godfrey. Shows are on Friday night at 6 and 7:30 pm, and on Saturday afternoon at 1 and 2:30 pm. Call the IRSC Box office at 462-4750, between 11 am and 3 pm today through Friday.


On November 29th in the year 1659, the Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens made the first map of Mars. Early telescopes were primitive. It took a lot of patience and sometimes a lot of imagination to see any detail at all through the eyepiece. When, for example, Galileo first saw Saturn through a twenty-power telescope in 1610, he thought it had "handles" on either side of it. Forty-five years later Huygens observed Saturn though a much better telescope, and announced that Saturn possessed "a thin, flat ring..." At first, most astronomers wouldn’t believe him, until they too were able to see for themselves. Four years later, Huygens made his sketches of Mars, and by watching its dark features drift across the Martian surface, figured out that Mars rotated about once every 24 hours, same as Earth. Huygens also found Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, discovered that Jupiter bulges in the middle, and built the first pendulum clock.

Fri Nov 30, 2018       STAR OF WONDER 2

Tonight and tomorrow afternoon, Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium will feature its twenty-sixth annual presentation of the holiday show, "Star of Wonder". In this program, we use the planetarium to take you back in time and show you what the skies looked like from Judea over 2000 years ago. We're especially interested in trying to discover the identity of the star of the Magi, the object referred to in the gospel of Saint Matthew. What kind of a star, or star-like object, could have guided the Wise Men – probably Babylonian skywatchers - on their journey westward across 600 miles of desert and mountains until their arrival in Bethlehem, possibly in 2 or 1 BC? Many natural phenomena, such as comets, meteors, and planets have been suggested as good candidates for “the star”. To get tickets or for more information about "Star of Wonder," call the IRSC Box office at 462-4750, between 11 am and 3 pm today.

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Music Notes

Songs of Space and Time

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