Saturday, April 29, 2017

Y is for Yellow Dwarf

We are almost done with exploring heavenly bodies in this year’s April’s A-Z challenge.  Y is for Yellow Dwarf.  No, I don’t mean Snow White’s Asian suitor, but a “g-type main-sequence star.”  All that gobble-goop means is a star like our sun!  These stars range in color from white to slightly yellow.  Our sun is actually a white star but appears more yellow because of our atmosphere.  This is something one might lose sleep over.  Our sun is burning 4 million tons of fuel a second.  Imagine that number, 4 million tons a second!  As it consumes this much fuel, it is producing the equivalent energy of 60 billion times the electricity produced by all the world’s power plants.  The sun can’t keep this up.  Sooner or later the sun will run out of fuel and then all our investments in solar energy will be wasted.  What are we to do?

Well, don’t sweat it, for as the sun begins to run short on fuel, it’ll throw one final party as it bellows itself into a red giant.  Then you’ll sweat it, but not for long for the earth will be consumed (as will we).  But don’t worry too much, that shouldn’t happen for another 4.5 billion years or so.  Chances are, we’ll all be long gone or have blown each other up by then.   After that last big party, the sun will dump a lot of its excessive matter, forming a planetary nebula as the core gradually shrink into a white dwarf. 

Of all the heavenly bodies we’ve discussed, there is one yellow dwarf is the easiest to spot.  Think you’re  up for the task?  (just don't stare at the sun, it's not good for your eyes).

Friday, April 28, 2017

X is for the X in the summer sky

Now for the promised post that many of you have been waiting for...

If you look overhead (from the northern hemisphere) during the summer, into the heart of the Milky Way, you might be able to make out an X or a cross in the sky.  X is today's letter in our A-Z Challenge.  This "X" is Cygnus, the swan, although it is also called “The Northern Cross.”  Although larger than its companion constellation, the Southern Cross, it’s not as famous possibly because Crosby Stills and Nash never sang a song about it.  

We’ve heard a bit about one of the stories that deal with Cygnus when we looked at Gemini (so you might want to look back and review).   If you remember, Gemini were the children of the affair between Jupiter (or Zeus) and Leda.  Leda, at the time, was the wife of the King of Sparta and Jupiter, from his all-seeing perch above earth, spots her having a bath.  Wanting a closer look, Jupiter changed himself into a swan and swam over to Leda.  The beautiful queen found the swan so lovely, she stoked his neck which drove Jupiter mad with lust.  He turned back into himself and they had sexual relationships that evening.  That same night, Leda, also had sex with her husband and somehow sperm from both found their way into Leda’s eggs.  Nine months later, she give birth to the Gemini twins, one who was immortal, thanks to his father being a god.  The other child was mortal, thanks to his dad being just a king.  So today, during the summer months, the swan is overhead waiting to seduce another beauty…  Or maybe this nonsense should just be called a “Midsummer Nights Dream.’   

There are other legends about Cygnus, but this one involved our old friend, Jupiter.

As for Crosby, Stills and Nash, I love the song, "Southern Cross," Anytime you can mix together sailing, the stars, and lost lovers together, I tend internalize the message...  
When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day

                               -Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1982

Thursday, April 27, 2017

W is for White Dwarf

Today, as we move into the doldrums of the skies in our A-Z challenge, we’re at the letter W.  There are no constellations that begin with a “W”, so we’ll have to look elsewhere for a heavenly body to admire.  Today, it will be a “White Dwarf.”  No, this is not one of Snow White’s Caucasian Suitors (which one of the seven dwarfs would that be?). 

Wrong Dwarfs (and shouldn't snow white be a blonde?)
Instead, I am speaking of a particular type of star, of which we have a hard time seeing because they are so dim.  White dwarfs are stars that are on their way out, so to speak, having burned up their fuel, they now remain as a dense compact core that slowly cools.  There is still enough heat and energy to emit some light, but fusion has stopped and at some point in the next dozen or so billions of years, the star will switch off its light and become a black dwarf (of which none is currently known to exist, but then the solar system is vast and a dark star could hide anywhere).  The closest white dwarf is a binary star to Sirius.

Now, I should have never said "never" when it comes to Mr. Jupiter.  There is no reason for this blog to go back to its normal G-rating.  Tomorrow, I have a surprised cooked up for you that includes another Don Juan Jupiter’s exploits.  I’ve been worrying for some time what to say about the letter “X”.  I had originally thought I’d write something about navigation but that’s not as fun...  As I pondered about my situation, I finally came up with another idea.  Stay tuned (and keep the kiddies away for another day as the blog will remain PG13)!  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

V is for Venus

Our A-Z challenge journey through the sky is about over and today we have our last major heavenly body to explore: Venus.  Don’t worry, I will have posts for w, x, y, z, but they’re not going to be nearly as exciting as the ones so far.  For some reason, Jupiter (or Zeus) was never tempted to seduce a beautiful woman named Wanda,  Xinda, Yvonne, or Zanda, and then in consolation to their mistreatment by his wife, give them a place in the sky.  

Venus is a lovely planet from earth.  It’s close to the same size as our home planet, the second planet from the sun, and is a most inhospitable place and isn't very pretty close up.  It is the hottest planet, hotter than even Mercury even though it is further away from the sun.  Gas in the atmosphere traps in heat and the surface can be as hot as 870 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s hot enough to melt lead.  The atmosphere is much heavier than earths and consist of Carbon Dioxide and Sulfuric Acid and other goodies.  You’d have to hold your nose because the smell, but the good news is that you’d not last long.  The surface is dry and dotted with volcanoes, some of which are still active.  Although the Venus year is only 220 days long (as it has less distance to circle the sun), it’s days are very long as are its nights as the planet slowly rotates. 

In ancient times, it was thought that Venus was two stars, the morning star named Lucifer and the evening star called Vespers.  But as astronomers began to figure things out, they realized it was on the same star and since it is closer to the sun than the earth, it is either seen in the morning or evening and never high overhead.   In the Bible, Venus as a morning star is referenced.  The King James Version translates Isaiah 14:13 as “O Lucifer, son of the morning.”  However, Lucifer is not in Hebrew.  The word Lucifer is Latin, meaning “Bearer of the Light.”  Although Venus sounds hellish enough for Lucifer, the reference to this star doesn’t always mean the devil or Satan.  In the last book of Scripture (Revelation 22:16), we read of Jesus speaking: “ I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 

Of course, the name Venus is taken from the Roman goddess of love and pleasure. 

If you want to see Venus, go out early tomorrow the morning.  The planet is the third brightest object in the sky (behind the Sun and moon) and can often be seen when other stars are not visible.  Look for it in East just before dawn, near the waning moon.  (If you are reading this blog later, check to see whether Venus is in the morning or evening sky). 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

U is for Ursa Major

We're at U in our journey through the night sky in search of heavenly bodies as we complete April’s A-Z challenge.  Today it's Ursa Major, best known as the Big Dipper or the Plough.  It's one of the more familiar constellations for those readers who live in the northern hemisphere, where it can be seen most of the year as it circles the pole.  This will also, I promise, be the last time I tell of Jupiter (or Zeus’) sexual infidelities during this challenge.  We have heard so much of his seducing that I’m sure many of you have become tired of it. 

The seven stars that make up the Dipper are all bright and easily spotted, unlike the Little Dipper which have only dim stars with the exception of Polaris. But the constellation is much larger than just the dipper and represents a large mother bear in the sky.  The constellation is the third largest.

Ursa Major means Large She-Bear, while Ursa Minor is Small She-Bear.  To see the constellation, look north and for the familiar dipper pattern.  This constellation is also old and is referred to not only be Greek writers but also in the Bible.  In the 9th chapter, Job challenges his friends pointing out that God is the maker of the “Bear and Orion and the Pleiades.”  And then, at the end of the book, God responds to Job, “Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?”  (Job 9:9 and 38:32).  Like other constellations, some cultures have seen different images with the dipper, such as the Babylonians seeing it as a wagon, northern European visualizing it as a plough, and the Azetc seeing one of their gods in the skies.  However, it's amazing how man cultures from Europe to Asia to Native Americans saw it as a bear.

Now concerning Mr. Don Juan Jupiter…  Callisto was the beautiful daughter of King Lycaon of Arcadia.  Like the girl in the Hunger Games, she loved to hunt and was good with a bow and arrow.  She worshiped Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, and pledged herself tot he goddess, promising to remain celibate.  But along comes Jupiter, who sees the beautiful girl taking a nap in the woods while she hunted.  Seeing a good opportunity, he changed himself into the likeness of Artemis and was able to engage in conversation with Callisto.  But his passion got the best of him and soon he forced himself on her, kissing her roughly and letting Callisto know that he was not Artemis, but Jupiter. Callistro resisted but she couldn’t keep Jupiter for doing what he intended. 
Again, Jupiter planted the seed and it was fertilized and grew and after nine months, Callisto gave birth to a son, Arcas.  When Juno, Jupiter’s wife, found out, she was furious and blamed Callistro and turned her into a bear.  Callistro now had to avoid hunters in the woods.  Years later she spotted a hunter who was her son, Arcas.  Forgetting she was a bear and took off to be reunited with her son, but he drew an arrow and shot it at the bear’s heart.  At this point Jupiter intervenes, saves Callistro, turns Arcas also into a bear and grabs both by the tail and toss them into the sky, where they were able to be together forever. 

Of course, Juno wasn’t happy about the immortality of Callistro and her son, so she arranged it that they never get to rest or take a bath, for they are doomed to rotate around the globe by the pole so that they never set (for resting is done when the constellation is behind the earth, the washing comes form setting in the ocean for a bath).  

Do you think Juno was taking out her anger on the victim and not the cause of her pain?