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An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Dark Skies

Saturn - Early March is an excellent time to view Saturn.
It is one of the brightest objects in the sky right now, due to
Saturn's current proximity to both the Sun and the Earth
and the fact that it is tipped toward us at its maximum angle,
which shows off the beautiful rings.

Dark skies

Charlie Christmann

As I write, it is just over two weeks since the Columbia attempted its return to Earth. This mission had a special interest for me, as two of the astronauts had connections to my hometown, Lubbock, Texas. Commander Rick Husband graduated from Texas Tech in 1980, and Pilot Willie McCool graduated from Coronado High School with my sister in 1979.

Just after the accident, I was asked if we will continue to send humans into outer space. I believe that manned space flight will continue, if for nothing more than the challenge, adventure, and knowledge. As Columbus paved the way for later colonists, the early astronauts paved the way for today’s shuttle crews, and perhaps future colonists of the Moon and Mars. I have no doubt that we will find the cause of this tragedy. Once the shuttle fleet is flying again, I would, if I could, be one of the first in line to experience the ultimate dark sky.

    The Bull

Taurus, the bull, resides near Orion. Look for Aldebaran, marking the eye of the bull. Around 9:00 p.m. in mid-March, face west and look about thirty degrees above the horizon. Just north of Orion, you will find bright Aldebaran in Taurus. The constellation Taurus was created by the Sumerians around 3000 B.C. to mark where the Sun would be in the sky for the spring equinox. During those times, the bull was considered to be a powerful fertility symbol.

Myth has it that Taurus is actually Zeus in a disguise he used for one of his affairs. During the affair, the Bull carried away Europa, daughter of King Agenor of Phoenicia. Europa enjoyed playing along the beach with the other girls of Tyre. Zeus was very interested in the beautiful Europa, so he had his son Hermes drive his cattle down from the mountain toward the shore where the girls played. Donning his disguise, Zeus mingled among the cattle, waiting for his chance to take Europa. He, of course, was the most handsome bull in the herd, with his snow-white coat and long shining horns. Europa noticed him immediately.

Zeus could hardly contain himself as Europa admired him and placed flowers around his horns. She was not afraid as they played in the surf. That soon changed as the bull began to swim out to sea. All Europa could do was to hold on tightly as the shore disappeared. Eventually, the bull came ashore in Crete, where Zeus revealed himself to Europa and seduced her. Their child, Minos, became King of Crete and founded the palace at Knossos, where the bull games were held.

Aldebaran is the brightest start in Taurus and the thirteenth-brightest star in the sky. The ancient name for this star means “the follower.” It received its name since it seemed to follow the Pleiades through the sky.

Aldebaran is another giant red star nearing the end of its life. Even though it is 350 times brighter then the Sun, it is much cooler and larger in diameter. It is about sixty light-years from Earth and sits in front of the Hyades cluster. Using binoculars, you should be able to spot about a hundred stars in this open star cluster. Look for the Hyades beside and behind Aldebaran. The stars are grouped in a cluster about twenty light-years in radius and are about 130 light-years from Earth. This is the nearest star cluster to Earth.

The Hyades are the daughters of Pleione and Atlas. They had seven sisters, the Pleiades.

    Where are the Planets and the Moon?

Look in the morning twilight for a glimpse of Mercury low on the horizon during early March. Venus is the bright Morning Start, rising around 5:00 a.m. Mars is also an early riser. Look for it around 2:00 a.m. Jupiter is high in the early night sky, setting about 4:00 a.m. The Moon and Jupiter are four degrees apart on March 14. Saturn is visible after sunset and sets about 1:00 a.m. Look for the Moon about three degrees from Saturn on March 11.

The new moon is on March 2, the full moon on March 18.

Spring begins March 20.

    A Final Tribute to Columbia

    High Flight

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

    Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

    Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things

    You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung

    High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

    I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

    My eager craft through footless halls of air.

    Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,

    I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

    Where never lark, or even eagle flew—

    And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

    The high unsurpassed sanctity of space,

    Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

—Flight Officer Gillespie Magee
No. 412 Squadron, RCAF
Died December 11, 1941.

 

Lodestar Astronomy Center is world-class

Charlie Christmann

If you have not visited the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science lately, you are missing an outstanding exhibit. The Lodestar Astronomy Center is a world-class addition to Albuquerque. The permanent exhibit outside the planetarium, featuring interactive displays, is a great introduction for “Infinity Express,” the new presentation at the Lodestar.

After you find your seat, the Lodestar’s Planetarium immerses you in a combination of sights and sounds that blends animation and science into an entertaining learning experience. The night sky comes alive as a staff member gives the audience a dramatic computerized multimedia survey of what we are learning about the planets, stars, and galaxies. Then, in a fast twenty minutes, “Infinity Express” takes you on a dramatic flyover of Mars. It then propels you to the far reaches of the observable universe with many fascinating stops in between.

The presentation opens on March 1 at the Museum of Natural History on Mountain Road in Albuquerque’s Old Town. If you decide to go on March 1 or 2, the museum is offering half-price admission. The show plays daily on the half hour from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For a special treat, there is a presentation of the night sky as you will see it later that evening at 10:30 a.m and 3:30 p.m.

The Lodestar Astronomy Center is a perfect educational collaboration between the museum and the University of New Mexico and it plans to bring the best astronomy programs to New Mexico.

 

Stargazing at Coronado State Monument

On Saturday, March 1, at 7:00 p.m. the Coronado State Monument, in partnership with LodeStar Astronomy Center, the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society, and the Albuquerque Astronomical Society, will sponsor an archeo-astronomy lecture, children's activities from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and stargazing featuring the observance of Jupiter, Saturn, and deep-sky galaxies and clusters through a variety of large telescopes. Children's activities include Saturn Make-and-Take, with kids constructing and decorating their own models of Saturn, and From the Earth to the Moon, a demonstration that explores size and scale perceptions of the distance between the two objects.

The lecture and slide show on archeo-astronomy will be presented by Melanie Templet, president of the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society and a longtime volunteer interpreter at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Coronado State Monument is fifteen miles north of Albuquerque, and one mile west of Bernalillo. Take I-25 north from Albuquerque to exit 242, turn west onto Highway 550, and just past Jackalope turn north at the sign for the monument. Proceed to the Visitors Center. Admission and parking is free.

For additional information, contact Angie Manning, monument manager, Coronado State Monument, 867-5351, or kuaua@lobo.net.

 

 

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