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SKYWATCH with Jon Bell

Mon Jul 16, 2018      PLACES IN THE SKY FOR JULY

Can you identify the twelfth largest constellation in the heavens? It is bordered on the north by Ursa Major and Leo Minor; on the south by Hydra, Sextans, Crater the Cup and Virgo; on the west by Cancer the Crab; and on the east by Virgo again and Coma Berenices. Roughly a dozen of its stars are known to have planets orbiting them. This part of space is also the source of the Leonid meteor shower which peaks in mid-November, and every 33 years, the  shower becomes a meteor storm, displaying dozens of “shooting stars” each hour. Many beautiful galaxies are found within its borders, one of which is a favorite of mine – the hamburger galaxy. In mythology, this creature was the first labor of Hercules, which was defeated after a month-long battle. Tonight the waxing crescent moon and the planet Venus can be found to the east of its brightest star, Regulus, sometimes called “the King star.” Can you name this constellation, the fifth sign of the zodiac? The answer is Leo the Lion.

Tue Jul 17, 2018        STARS OF THE SUMMER TRIANGLE

The Summer Triangle is made up of three bright stars that are well-placed in the eastern sky after sunset at this time of the year. The highest star, Vega, is the brightest of the three, but the star Altair, below and a little to the south of Vega, is almost as bright. The third star, the northernmost one, is called Deneb, and it’s no match for the brightnesses of the other two. But that’s because, as you may have guessed, Deneb is much farther away from us, so its light is correspondingly dimmer. Altair is a mere seventeen light years away – that’s a little over a hundred trillion miles. Vega is a little farther away, twenty-five light years, but it’s an intrinsically brighter star, and that extra luminosity makes it brighter. But Deneb, which is the dimmest star, is also about a hundred times more distant; if Deneb were as close to us as the other two, it would be bright enough to cast shadows! 

Wed Jul 18, 2018      THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES

The philosopher Pythagoras put forth the geocentric model of the universe, in which the planets, the sun and the stars all revolved about the earth. He also thought that as the planets traveled in their orbits, they emitted musical notes. Over a thousand years later, the heliocentric model was introduced; this placed the earth as one of the planets revolving about the sun. One of the first to embrace the heliocentric model was Johannes Kepler, a seventeenth century German astronomer, who borrowed Pythagoras’ musical notions and actually sat down and wrote the notes that each planet would make, depending on the shape of its orbit. Planets like Venus and the Earth, whose orbits had low degrees of eccentricity, would only sound out one or two notes as they revolved about the sun. At the other extreme was the highly eccentric orbit of Mercury, which accordingly was given a whole octave of notes to play. This was called "The Music of the Spheres."

Thu Jul 19, 2018       THE MOON’S TIDAL LOCK

Today the first quarter moon rises out of the east in the early afternoon. It will look like a half moon; the part of it we can’t see is in shadow – it’s still nighttime on the eastern half of the moon. Just as we experience day-lit and dark periods on earth, so the moon has both day and night. But the moon’s rotation is slow; a lunar day lasts two weeks, followed by two weeks of night. As the moon orbits the earth, its rotation speed as it spins on its axis matches its revolution about the earth, so it rotates once for every orbit. This is called a synchronous or tidal lock, an effect of the earth’s tidal pull on the moon, which has slowed down its rotation to be in synch with its revolution. Because of this we can see only one side of the moon, called lunar nearside; the far side of the moon (sometimes mistakenly called “the dark side,”) can never be seen from earth. Or as Pink Floyd tells us, there is no dark side of the moon; matter of fact, it’s all dark!

Fri Jul 20, 2018          APOLLO 11 LANDING ANNIVERSARY

Forty-nine years ago today, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. They were not its first visitors: six men had preceded them, in Apollo’s 8 and 10; but those astronauts never landed. When the lunar excursion module Eagle separated from the Apollo command ship Columbia, Aldrin and Armstrong piloted it down to the moon’s surface, and at 4:18 pm Eastern Daylight Time, July 20th, 1969, they set down on the southern edge of Mare Tranquilitatis, the Sea of Tranquility – a huge lava flow of dark basaltic rock. At 10:56 pm, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, followed by Buzz Aldrin about ten minutes later. They spent two and a half hours exploring that part of the moon where they’d landed, then lifted off on July 21st at 1:54 pm and with fellow astronaut Mike Collins, returned to earth on July 24th. While no one has traveled to the moon since 1972, you can still see it up there; tonight it appears high in the south after sunset, and just above the planet Jupiter.




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SKYWATCH WITH JON BELL
sky-watch

BEST OF ASTRONOMER'S SONGBOOK
Music Notes

Songs of Space and Time



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