Jon U. Bell

Sky Watch Host

Ways to Connect

The moon is in its waxing gibbous phase. That’s when it looks egg-shaped; but give it a couple of more days and it will be all the way round and full. Last night it appeared nearby the planet Jupiter, what astronomers call a conjunction. It looks like the two are right next to each other, but of course, they’re not, it’s just a line-of-sight effect. Jupiter is several hundred million miles away, while the moon is just a scant 240,000 miles from us.

Solar and lunar eclipses happen whenever the Earth, sun and moon line up. Solar eclipses happen at new moon, and lunar eclipses happen at full moon. The alignment has to be just about perfect, otherwise the shadows of the earth or moon never touch down upon the other. This coming summer, August 21st, there will be a total solar eclipse, but you’ll need to travel north or west to see it; from Florida it will appear only as a partial eclipse, which is interesting, but not spectacular. Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium will present a show about eclipses this weekend.

Divide the year up into four parts or quarters. Each quarter is marked by the beginning of a new season. The quarter days of Summer and Winter are known as solstices, when the noontime sun reaches its highest or lowest altitude in the sky; while during the equinoxes of Spring and Autumn, nights and days are of fairly equal length. Now divide those seasons in half and you get cross-quarter days, the midpoints of each season. May 1st marks the cross-quarter day for Spring, called Beltane in the old Celtic calendar.

Mars has become a lot harder to find lately. Ever since we passed the red planet almost a year ago, it’s been getting dimmer; our faster-moving earth increases the distance between the two, leaving Mars farther and farther behind. But you should be able to find it tonight, because the moon will appear alongside it this evening, acting like a kind of cosmic bookmark in the sky. Go outside after sunset and face toward the west. If skies are clear and nothing blocks your view, you should be able to find the moon, a slender crescent a little ways above the western horizon.

The earth revolves about the sun, which causes the sun to slowly drift through our sky from west to east. The sun has now entered the constellation Aries, the Ram. This means that because of the earth’s revolutionary motion, the sun is now directly between us and the stars which make up Aries. This obviously is a bad time to be looking for the constellation of the Ram, because the bright sun blocks our view of this part of space. If today’s your birthday, you may have been told that you’re a Taurus, meaning the sun was in Taurus when you were born.