Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What's So Amazing that Keeps Us Stargazing ...

This morning I awoke (again, after ignoring my 5:30 a.m. cell phone alarm) to a glimpse of a peach-and-blue-tinged sky, the beginning of a beautiful sunrise, lifting my spirits for the day before I could lift my body out of my warm bed. Even more enchanting was another clear view of Venus and Jupiter moving closer together in their orbits around the sun. In just a couple more days, they will appear to be nearly touching in the early morning sky, just before sunrise.

Astronomy was one of my favorite classes in college, and after Christmas, I was excited to purchase a wall calendar with dates, charts, and highlights of the night sky for 2008. (Max was excited about the compass that came with the calendar.)

January offered clear sightings of Mars, Saturn, and Mercury as well. I had hoped to enjoy the showers from the Quadrantid meteors early in the month, but the nights were cold and cloudy and I was not feeling well to patiently watch the sky. Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Explorer I, the United States' first orbiting spacecraft. According to A Year of The Night Sky 2008 stargazers' calendar, Explorer I was a United States Army mission and our country's first successful satellite. Perhaps.

The month of February will include other heavenly delights for fellow stargazers:
In February, we will be able to see Mars from dusk until four in the morning, but its magnitude (brightness) will fade during the month. Mercury will be difficult to view from our latitude (but Beloved Heather and Family in India will be able to see it well about thirty minutes before sunrise). Check out the early morning sky on February 4 to see Venus, Jupiter, and a cresent moon gathered together in the sky. The evening of February 21 will give us a rare view of a full lunar eclipse, 51 minutes in its totatilty. And, as a testament to the rapid growth of technology during our lifetimes, February 24 marks the 40th anniversary of scientists' discovery of the first pulsar, defined as "rapidly rotating neutron stars left over after some supernova explosions."

Happily, two little boys also woke up in good moods today, their little eyes shining like stars and planets in the first hours of the day.

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