Cumberland Times-News

Columns

February 1, 2014

Orion and Jupiter are ruling evening skies

Orion, the brightest of the 88 constellations, is now striking in the south around 8 p.m.

Look for a rectangle tipped by four bright stars. In the middle of the rectangle are three matched stars in a row. This star row is called Orion’s belt.

Orion’s belt points left and down to Sirius, the night’s brightest star.  The bottom right star of the rectangle sparkles white and blue; this is Rigel, Orion’s brightest star (say RYE-gel). Rigel’s light takes about 900 years to reach the Earth.

The upper left rectangle star is pinkish Betelgeuse, an aging star that is greatly distended as it nears the end of its life.

Betelgeuse is so large that it can enclose the orbit of the planet Mars.

When heavy stars exhaust their nuclear fuel, their central core collapse rapidly and then rebound. This leads to the outer layers of the stars being blown off, forming heavy elements such as silver, gold and platinum. This self-destruction of a heavy star is called a supernova type II.

The chance of Betelgeuse exploding is 1 out of a hundred in this century. Betelgeuse is about 375 light years. If the light of this star’s explosion reaches Earth, Betelgeuse would appear as an intensely bright point, as bright as our full moon!

For all we know, Betelgeuse may have already gone supernova, but not enough time may have elapsed for the explosion’s radiation to reach Earth.

Because of the nature of supernova explosions, Betelgeuse would remain intensely bright for a number of months after the light of the explosion first reached Earth.

Betelgeuse is so distant that the intense radiation emitted by its explosion would be so diluted that it would not endanger life on Earth.

A supernova explosion much closer (30 light years away) might cause a mass extinction of life on Earth.

Above and to the left of Orion is the bright planet Jupiter. Jupiter is so large (11 times as wide as the Earth) with its highly reflective clouds so that Jupiter always outshines any of the night stars.

You can be sure that you are seeing Jupiter by its steady light, Binoculars held steadily will show several “stars” on either side of Jupiter.

These “stars” are Jupiter’s large moons. Because of Jupiter’s large mass (318 times Earth’s mass), these large moons must move rapidly around Jupiter with periods from 1.75 to 17 Earth days.

In morning dawns of February, Venus is a splendid sight in the east. Venus’ brilliance is due to its highly reflective clouds and closeness to both the Earth and the sun.

Starting this month, Venus will be prominent at dawn for seven months. During this time, Venus will keep ahead of the Earth.

Then in September, Venus will drop close to the southeast horizon and become increasingly difficult to see. (Venus’ disappearance in October is due to our neighbor world nearly passing in back of the sun.)

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: The crescent moon can be seen low in the western dusk for the next few evenings. On Feb. 6, the evening moon will appear half full (like a tilted letter D.)

Along the moon’s straight edge (on the left), the sun is rising there, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks. Binoculars held steadily will allow you to see the larger craters and the grey lava plains.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

1
Text Only
Columns
  • Don’t do it. Don’t do it

    Temperatures have been moderate recently but are projected to rise to the upper 80s and low 90s later this week, so we want to remind you: Never leave children unattended in a vehicle.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • He means well, and this time they spared his life

    Our pal Phil is the only re-enactor certified in writing by both the Lee and Custis families to portray Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (whose wife was Mary Anna Custis Lee). When he’s in uniform, he generally stops at the bottom of the path that leads to the summit of Little Round Top, salutes Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy and asks permission to join us. (Get it? Generally ... General Lee?) We always return his salute and grant him permission, in part because he’s our friend and also because the real Lee never got to see what it really looks like from up there. (Get it? Grant ... Grant? U.S. Grant? Real Lee ... really? OK. I hear you. That’s enough. Seriouslee.) Phil gets a kick out of being able to sneak up on us while we’re distracted by tourists.

    July 20, 2014

  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Mike Sawyers and his father, Frank Sale of quart-sized Mason jars lagging, merchants claim

    The opening day of Maryland’s squirrel hunting season is Sept. 6 and I am guessing you will be able to drive a lot of miles on the Green Ridge State Forest and see very few vehicles belonging to hunters of the bushytail. It wasn’t always that way. In the early 1960s, when I was a high school student in Cumberland, there was no Interstate 68. What existed was U.S. Route 40 and in the last couple of hours before daylight on the opening day of squirrel season there was an almost unbroken line of tail lights and brake lights between Cumberland and Polish Mountain.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hugo Perez Columnist, son are range finders, but where are .22 shells?

    We feel pretty lucky on this side of the Potomac to have a nice shooting range to utilize for free and within decent driving distance.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Opposition and inclusion understood

    Those of you who have been here before know how I feel about the late great Len Bias, who I will remember foremost as Leonard Bias, the polite, spindly Bambi-eyed kid from Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School, who could throw a dunk through the floor, yet had the most beautiful jump shot I have ever seen.

    July 17, 2014

  • Stopgap

    Kicking the can down the road was one of the things American kids did to pass the time in the old days, particularly if they lived in rural areas where there was little traffic to contend with.

    July 16, 2014

  • Further proof you should never bet on baseball

    Had you known in March that ...

    July 16, 2014

  • Build it now Build it now

    Anticipated savings from demolition work that will provide ground for a new Allegany High School on Haystack Mountain may allow the addition of an auditorium at the school.

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014