This week calls for a little blending of my astronomy topic and regular “outdoors” writing.
First, the astronomical items – The Eta Aquariids shower peaked yesterday morning, but it’s still going on. I haven’t been able to observe anything yet (lots of rain and clouds), but may try in the next few mornings to catch the shower, and Venus, and Saturn…
The Moon this week is waxing towards full, passing very close to Jupiter (both above Spica) on Monday night. Jupiter is looking pretty – even with my modest scope I got great views of the cloud bands and four Gallilean moons last week. If you have a fairly powerful telesccope, you ought to be able to catch a double shadow on Jupiter this Thursday. Between 9:59 and 10:05 Eastern, both Io and Europa will be casting shadows on Jupiter’s face.
Skies have shifted such that we’ll be talking about new constellations before long. Jupiter sits in Virgo, but we’ll give it a little more time to rise and let the summer constellations get higher. As we enter that part of the orbit where the northern hemisphere is pointed toward the sun in the daytime, that means it’s tilted farther from the ecliptic (plane of the solar system) at night – so as a result the summer zodiac constellations get closer and closer to the horizon. Not to mention it doesn’t get dark until much later… so these constellations aren’t the most familiar, but we’ll get there.
The broader outdoor connection is related to our current position on Earth’s orbit. I’ve mentioned before that there is about a 6-week lag between astronomical events (equinoxes, solstices) and the weather we feel and mark the seasons. Astronomically, May 5 (Friday) was the midpoint between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice – so we’ve entered that part of the orbit where we should be in summer, with the solstice marking the midpoint. Weather takes time to develop, and things don’t heat up instantly, so meterologically we don’t talk about summer for another six weeks.
HOWEVER, from a sun and daylight point of view, we’re in the high season for outdoor activity. Starting on Sunday at my house (it’s latitude dependent), we will have more than 14 hours of daylight everyday until August 5. To me, that’s a lot more important than temperature – particularly when you fast forward to late autumn (Oct-Nov), when it may still be warm-ish, but getting dark before the workday ends.
So yes, I typically have an alternative reason for celebrating Cinco de Mayo, or thereabouts. Long days, short nights and temps that are warm but not yet stifling. NOW is the best time of year to get out there and enjoy the outdoors! I know I will!
Get Out There