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On this week's stimulus-check-fortified weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World ponders whether the GOP is a death cult, in the latest installment of Life in the Coronaverse; Jen Sorensen wishes U.S. Supreme Court justices had to take the same risks as Wisconsin voters; The K Chronicles offers up some delicious coronavirus cuisine; Red Meat wonders whether a meteor strike is next; and Apoca Clips has an exclusive sneak peak at Li'l Trumpy's new movie.

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As October both begins and ends, the moon will be sweeping through an evening lineup of four planets.

On October evenings, bright Jupiter is in the south-southwest to southwest at dusk, with Saturn to its left in the south to south-southwest; both remain outstanding for telescopic viewing, Jupiter with its cloud belts and four bright moons, and Saturn with its rings now tipped 25 degrees from edgewise. These giant planets appear 26 degrees apart on the sky’s dome on Oct. 1, narrowing to 22 degrees apart by Oct. 31. Follow their eastward motions against background stars, until the seasonal westward drift of the constellations drags both slow-moving planets to the southwest horizon before year’s end. Note reddish twinkling Antares, heart of Scorpius, 10 to 14 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter during October. Watch Jupiter pass 2.1 degrees north of a third-magnitude star on Oct. 22.

Look early in the evening twilight to catch Venus; binoculars are indispensable for nearby Mercury. From the Coachella Valley, Venus sets only 37 minutes after sunset on Oct. 1, improving to 64 minutes by month’s end. Mercury, near magnitude 0 almost all month, sets a maximum of 60 minutes after the sun Oct. 18-24; reaches greatest elongation, 25 degrees to the upper left of the sun on the 19th; and appears highest in twilight for a few days around then. But this is the year’s poorest evening apparition of Mercury, because the zodiac belt where the planets are found makes its shallowest angle with the evening horizon when the southernmost zodiac constellation Sagittarius is in southern sky. Using binoculars, find Mercury to the upper left of Venus during the first three weeks—by 7 degrees Oct. 2-3; 8 degrees Oct. 8-16; and back to 7 degrees Oct. 20-21. On Oct. 23, Mercury is 6 degrees to the upper left of Venus. Next, Mercury passes left of Venus, by 5.2 degrees on Oct. 25, and 4.6 degrees on Oct. 26. Then Mercury appears to Venus’ lower left, by 4 degrees on the 27th, and 3.4 degrees on the 28th. On Oct. 30, Mercury passes within 2.6 degrees south of Venus, but has begun its rapid fade.

Follow the moon at dusk through Oct. 13, and again Oct. 27-Nov. 12. On Oct. 3, find bright Jupiter within 3 degrees to the lower right of the moon. On Oct. 4, the fat (44 percent) crescent moon is 15 degrees to the upper left of Jupiter and 10 degrees to the lower right of Saturn. On Oct. 5, the moon, 54 percent full, is just past its first-quarter phase, when it’s half full and 90 degrees—a quarter of the way around the sky—from the sun.

On Oct. 13, watch the full moon rise some 20-25 minutes after sunset, just north of due east. As you looked daily in evening twilight through Oct. 13, the moon took two weeks to travel through a half-dozen zodiac constellations, from western horizon to eastern horizon, passing four planets along the way. In the first five evenings its next time around, Oct. 29-Nov. 2, the moon will pass the same four planets.

Other bright stellar markers not in the zodiac are Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, climbing in the southeast, and golden Arcturus, the “Bear-watcher” star, sinking in the west to west-northwest.

By Oct. 16, moonrise is late enough to allow at least a brief interval of dark skies unaffected by moonlight. This “window” of darkness lasts longer each evening as the moon rises later. If you’re in a dark place, enjoy the Milky Way passing through the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb overhead, and the Andromeda Galaxy above the curved chain of stars starting at one corner of the Great Square of Pegasus in the east.

Follow the moon at dawn from when it is full, low in the west on Oct. 13, through last quarter (half full and 90 degrees west of the sun) on Oct. 21, to a thin crescent, low and south of east, on Oct. 26. The brightest star in October’s morning twilight is Sirius, in the southern sky, as dawn brightens. Confirm by noting that the three-star belt of Orion, with stars bluish Rigel marking his foot and reddish Betelgeuse his shoulder, points directly to Sirius. Extend the belt in the opposite direction, and you’ll pass near Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, and farther to the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster, a wonderful target for binoculars.

Four days after it’s full and low in the west on Oct. 13, the moon is within 6 degrees to the lower right of Aldebaran on Oct. 17. For the next three mornings, Oct. 18-20, the waning gibbous moon moves through the huge Winter Hexagon. Next, on Oct. 21, the last-quarter moon, half full, is 7 degrees southeast of Pollux, and in line with the “Twin” stars, Castor and Pollux of Gemini. Our Spaceship Earth is heading in the direction of the half-lit moon in our orbit around the sun. If the moon stood still, it would take us only about 3 1/2 hours to reach it.

Our view of the peak of the Orionid meteor shower, in the predawn hours of Oct. 22, is affected by moonlight. On Oct. 23, the crescent moon will pass 4 degrees north of Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion. In just three more mornings, on Oct. 26, look for the last easy old crescent moon, 4 percent full, just south of east, with Mars 5 degrees to its lower right. The dim red planet is now at magnitude +1.8, as faint as it ever gets. In just less than a year, in October 2020, the Earth will pass between Mars and the sun, and it will appear at opposition, and shine at magnitude -2.7, some 60 times brighter than now. At the end of October, Spica will be emerging out of the morning twilight glow, 7 degrees below Mars.

Notice the star Arcturus rising on the morning twilight chart. Arcturus is equally visible low in the west-northwest at dusk on Oct. 29 as it is in the east-northeast at dawn on Oct. 30. At this time of year, Arcturus leads the procession of stars and constellations through the night, and brings up the rear.

Abrams Planetarium publishes a monthly Sky Calendar with an evening sky map. The calendar illustrates many of the present and future events described above. Subscriptions are $12 per year at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar for three printed issues mailed quarterly. For a preview of evening and morning planet gatherings through August 2020, visit the Sky Calendar Extra Content Page at www.abramsplanetarium.org/msta.

Would you enjoy telescopic views of Jupiter, Saturn and an assortment of deep sky objects? Check the website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert at www.astrorx.org and come to our free evening star parties offered monthly at two locations.Our primary, more accessible venue is the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, on Highway 74, within four miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert. Our next sessions there will be on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 7 to 10 p.m., and on Saturday, Nov. 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. Sawmill Trailhead, our high-altitude site (elevation 4,000 feet), will next host a session on Saturday, Oct. 26, starting at dusk.

Wishing you clear skies!

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for a variety of groups in the Coachella Valley. Robert D. Miller did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Published in Astronomy

On this full-of-flowers (post-April showers) weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson sees the messenger being smeared; The K Chronicle revels in the Fyre Festival debacle; This Modern World uses the border wall as a metaphor, sort of; Apoca Clips looks at laptops on airplanes; and Red Meat enjoys a meteor shower.

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May evenings are rich with bright stars: As many as 11 of the 16 brightest stars visible from the Coachella Valley can be viewed simultaneously in twilight—and this year, four of the five naked-eye planets will join the display.

On the night of Friday, May 23, there will bepossible outbursts of meteors as Earth passes through several trails of debris from a small comet. Outbursts could be short, with the peak likely between midnight and 1 a.m., Saturday, May 24. Although meteors from these outbursts could be seen anywhere in sky, if their paths are extended backward, they will radiate from a point to the lower left of the North Star, Polaris. You might like to camp out in a dark place on that Friday night, and keep watch for unusually slow meteors (only about 30 percent as fast as August’s Perseids) between 10:30 p.m. on Friday and 2 a.m. on Saturday. For more, visit the webpage of the International Meteor Organization.

May 2014 at dusk: The five brightest “stars,” in order of brightness, are Jupiter, Sirius (until it drops below the horizon), Mercury, Mars and Arcturus. (Mercury may not seem so bright, because it is seen in a brightly twilit part of the sky; its brightness fades below that of Mars on May 8, and that of Arcturus on May 21.)

At dusk for most of May, four of the five naked-eye planets are visible simultaneously! Jupiter (magnitude -2.0 to -1.9) descends in the west to west-northwest. Mars (-1.2 to -0.5) ascends in the southeast to south. Saturn, passing oppositionas Earth overtakes it on May 10, shines at +0.1 for most of May, while ascending from east-southeast into the southeast. Mercury, low in the west-northwest to the lower right of Jupiter at dusk, sets at or after mid-twilight beginning May 3, while shining at magnitude -1.5. The planet fades to -1.0 on May 8, to 0.0 on May 20, and to +1.2 on May 31.

As for stars, four of winter’s luminaries disappear below the western horizon during May. First to depart is Rigel, followed by Aldebaran, Sirius and Betelgeuse. Forming an arch above Jupiter, the stars Procyon, Pollux and Castor of Gemini, and Capella will linger into June. Far to the upper left of Jupiter, the star Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion, is high in the south to well up in the west-southwest sky in May at dusk. Arcturus and Spica adorn the eastern half of sky in May’s evening twilight, and Vega rises in the northeast by mid-twilight after May’s first few days. Deneb and Antares are added later in month. Antares is at opposition and visible nearly all night on May 30.

The moon in the evening sky in May and early June passes nearAldebaran on May 1; Jupiter on May 3 and 4; Regulus on May 7; Mars on May 10 and 11; Spica on May 11 and 12; Saturn on May 13; Antares on May 15; Mercury on May 30; and Jupiter on May 31 and June 1.

May 2014 at dawn: The four brightest “stars” at dawn are Venus (magnitude -4), Arcturus, Vega and Saturn (mag. +0.1). Those who rise early and get outdoors to look at the sky before dawn are forward-looking people—literally! That’s because each morning, we are on the front side of the Earth with respect to our motion around the sun—facing directly out the front window of Spaceship Earth! This is a direct consequence of the Earth’s rotating on its axis in the same direction as our planet’s revolution around the sun: Counter-clockwise, as seen from the north side, or “above” our solar system.

Venus at dawn in May gleams brilliant in the east. Examine Venus through a telescope, and you’ll find it two-thirds full on May 1 to more than three-quarters full on the 31st. In the morning sky, Venus is ahead of us, and widening its distance from us daily, until it rounds the far side of the sun in October. Low in the west-southwest to southwest at dawn, we find Saturn at opposition to the sun on May 10 this year, and Antares, heart of the Scorpion, at opposition on the night of May 30-31. As we follow our orbit curving between the sun and these two bodies, they’ll drift toward the horizon. So will Arcturus in the west to west-northwest, and eventually, so will the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb, now overhead. Recently emerged Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, is ascending in the southeast.

The moon in the mornings in May passes nearSaturn on May 14; Antares on May 15 and 16; and Venus on May 25.

Check the website of the Astronomical Society of the Desert for dates and locations of “star parties” where everyone is welcome to look through telescopes at the moon, planets and “deep sky objects.” Our final sky watch until October at the National Monument Visitor Center takes place Saturday, May 10, but our monthly sessions at Sawmill Trailhead, at 4,000 feet, continue all year.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Published in Astronomy

This week, Jen Sorenson examines the future of the United States Postal Service; The City takes on Justin Bieber and his anti-Grammy crusade; Roland and Cid discuss what it will take to become pope; and Red Meat takes an invigorating bath!

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