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SKYWATCH with Jon Bell

Mon Oct 22, 2018       FOMALHAUT

As we move toward the end of October, skywatchers may have noticed a fairly bright star over in the southeastern sky after sunset. It’s not the brightest star in the sky; over toward the west, the planet Jupiter outshines all other stars; and in the southwest are the planets Saturn and Mars, as well as the red giant star Antares in the constellation Scorpius. But in the southeast, there’s really nothing else around anywhere near as bright as this one little star, which is not really such a little star once you get to know it. The star is called “fish-mouth.” Well, that’s the English translation of the Arabic word. Its real name is Fomalhaut (foe-ma-low), usually pronounced foe-mal-howt here in America. It marks the mouth of Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish, and as you may have guessed, it’s south of the better known zodiacal constellation of Pisces the fish, which has no bright stars at all. By mid-evening you’ll find Fomalhaut due south.

Tue Oct 23, 2018 DEATH OF TYCHO

“Let me not seem to have lived in vain.” These were the last words of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who after eleven bed-ridden days of suffering, died on October 24, 1601. Working before telescopes were invented, Tycho accurately measured the positions of stars and planets, proved that comets were objects in outer space, and believed that while some planets orbited the sun, the sun orbited the earth. A popular legend says that Tycho died because he didn’t go to the bathroom on time. He was at a banquet, and did not wish to insult his host by leaving early. As a result, his bladder burst, which killed him. In 1993, Brahe’s body was exhumed, and analysis of his hair seemed to show a lot of mercury; as an alchemist, had he accidentally poisoned himself? But a more recent autopsy shows that his mercury levels were almost in the normal range, supporting the opinion of the doctor who attended the astronomer as he lay dying; Tycho may actually have died from a burst bladder.

Wed Oct 24, 2018        FULL OCTOBER MOON

The full moon, now among the stars of the constellation Pisces, rises at sunset this evening. October’s full moon is often called the Hunter’s Moon, because hunters in colonial America found its light useful when pursuing their own dinner in the dark. This is also the Sioux Indians’ Moon of Falling Leaves; the Big Wind Moon of the Zuni tribes; or the Cheyenne’s Moon When the Water Begins to Freeze on the edge of the Stream - must be getting cold up north. The Ponca Indians, in observance of the time when food is harvested for the winter, call this the Moon When They Store Food in Caches, while the Kiowa simply call it the Ten Colds Moon, a harbinger of the freezing weather that follows. October’s full moon was also called the blood moon in medieval England, a reference to the reddish coloring often displayed by the rising full moon of October.


Most department store telescopes are refractors. A refractor has a large glass lens at the front end, usually two or three inches across. You can also find reflecting telescopes or reflectors in department stores. A reflector has a large mirror, usually between 3 and 10 inches, mounted in the bottom of the tube. Reflectors typically cost less than refractors, because mirrors are cheaper to make than lenses. So the reflector is a better buy; you can get a larger, or wider telescope for the same money. And the wider the mirror, the more light it can gather, which means more magnification. A good rule of thumb is fifty power for every inch of aperture. If a scope has only a three-inch lens or mirror, then you really should only expect it to magnify up to about a hundred and fifty power – after that, the image looks dim and fuzzy. Buy a reflector that has a mirror at least four inches to six inches across. That will give you the ability to magnify images up to 200 power or more.


This weekend marks the international Observe the Moon event. Members of the Treasure Coast Astronomical Society will set up their telescopes by the Hallstrom Planetarium tonight and tomorrow night to give visitors a free guided view of our nearest neighbor in space. The moon is just past first quarter, and there are a lot of great details that can be seen along its terminator – that’s the line that separates the daylit part of the moon from the part that’s still in darkness. And since the moon is waxing toward full, this particular terminator is showing us where the sun is rising on the moon right now. Of course, it’s a very slow sunrise – takes days actually, because the moon doesn’t rotate once every 24 hours, but once every month! So a day on the moon lasts for two weeks - that is a long day. Anyway come out to Indian River State College’s Fort Pierce campus tonight or tomorrow night at 7 pm, and if skies are clear, we’ll show you the moon!

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Songs of Space and Time

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