Boyne City astronomer Bryan Shumaker leads you through the night sky

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God that endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” —Galileo Galilei

‘LOOK UP! WHAT’S IN THE NIGHT SKY’ BY BRYAN SHUMAKER

This picture was taken by Boyne City astronomer Bryan Shumaker. It shows the Rosette Nebula, a favorite wintertime astro target.
This picture was taken by Boyne City astronomer Bryan Shumaker. It shows the Rosette Nebula, a favorite wintertime astro target.

Hello out there, my fellow astro-nuts!

We have had little reprieve from the weather but a few teasers—a few hours of seemingly clear skies until a high overcast drifts in.
Such is life in the northern latitudes!

The moon was First Quarter on Feb. 15, so if the weather gods grant us a reprieve and the skies actually clear, go outside and appreciate the changing winter sky.

Although spring up here seems very far off, the constellations wheeling about the sky as the seasons change is always beautiful and awe-inspiring.

If you stay up late enough, the familiar constellations of spring and summer appear.

 

Virgo, Leo, and even Hercules appear in the eastern sky as the night progresses. If you become familiar with the night sky, these constellations appear like old friends and a real pleasure to re-discover. Mighty Orion still dominates the night sky.

Galileo Galilei was born Feb. 15, 1564 in Pisa, Italy. By now, his name should be familiar to everyone.

He popularized the newly invented telescope, turned the two thousand year old Earth-centered universe beliefs on its ear, and endured excommunication and lifetime house arrest when he refused to recant his astronomical findings.

One has to admire his intellectual courage.

During his trial by the Inquisition, he proclaimed “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God that endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Also, this month, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto on Feb. 18, 1930.

On Feb. 19, 1473, Nicolas Copernicus was born. He was a monk who did careful calculations and concluded the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the solar system. His work was not highly publicized (which was a good thing as he would have suffered the same or worse fate as Galileo at the hands of the Church).

The genie was out of the bottle, and his thoughts and writings gradually gained strength over the next hundred years as his writings were re-discovered.

Another priest, Giordano Bruno, went so far as to state that it was likely that other stars had planets and that life could be present on these distant orbs as well.

The Church responded by burning him alive at the stake for heresy.

Try and appreciate that you are allowed to think these simple suppositions because of the sacrifices that these early scientists made!

On Feb. 24, 1968, the first pulsar discovery was announced. A fascinating object left over after a supernova explosion, a rapidly spinning neutron star (as much as hundreds of times a second!) sends tight beams of high energy radiation out as it rotates (like a lighthouse beam).

The pulses come with such regularity that at first, scientists thought that it was a signal from an alien race!

They originally called the signal “LGM” which stood for “little green men” before they understood it’s a natural phenomena. The best known pulsar is M1 in the constellation of Taurus.

Speaking of Pluto, the NASA probe “Messenger” has given us spectacular views of Pluto and its moon Charon.

It took ten long years to get there, even though it’s the fastest moving probe ever launched.

It took the Apollo astronauts three days to get to the moon—Messenger passed it within a few hours after launch.

As we all know, the path to space can be arduous, difficult and deadly.

As the ancients said, “Ad Astra per Aspera” … “to the stars through difficulty.”

By the way, this phrase happens to be on the State Seal of Kansas.

Edgar Mitchell, one of the Apollo 14 crew members, passed away last week at the age of 85.

Until next week, hope for clear skies and remember, keep looking up!