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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Close encounters of the next kind

Thursday, April 12, 2012

To paraphrase an old folk song, the skies they be a-changin'.

Ancient astronomers espoused the idea that the heavens were fixed and unchanging, except for a few "stars" that seemed to move against the background of the stars in predictable cycles.

In this day and age by using large and powerful telescopes, astronomers have discovered that stars indeed do, and are, moving, some at incredible speeds toward us and some away.

Galaxies too, those island universes, composed of billions of stars themselves are moving at speeds up of millions of miles per hour. Indeed, in a few million years the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will have a "Close Encounter" of a collision kind.

We humans, mere mortals that we are, cannot perceive these movements because of the vast distances involved, and our lifetimes are not nearly long enough to really be able to see such movement.

It does, however, give us a small idea of just how big and vast "space" really is.

We have though been watching the movements of our "close" planetary neighbors (if by close we mean just a few hundred million miles) these past few weeks as Jupiter and Venus passed each other and both planets in turn have passed other celestial objects for our viewing pleasure.

The moon also got involved in a couple of these meetings, and will do so again in the coming months.

Another kind of movement we can watch is the changing of the guard, if you will, of a seasonal nature as the winter constellations leave the sky to be replaced by those of spring with the summer crew making an early morning appearance with a promise of things to come.

Jupiter is now leaving the western sky while Venus is still climbing in altitude and will continue to do so until the middle of May.

On the other side of the sky in the east, Saturn which has been rising earlier each evening and will reach opposition on April 15. Opposition means it is opposite the sun in the sky and will rise at sunset and set at sunrise and be visible all night.

Mars has been doing its thing too moving in retrograde, or westward, against the background of the stars. It has recently resumed its regular motion eastward against the background of the stars moving away from the bright star Regulus in Leo, the Lion.

What does all this mean to us? To me it means the sky is an ever-changing tableau of things to watch and be amazed by. It is as though the heavens themselves were providing entertainment for us.

In years gone by such things were noticed and considered normal. Our lives were involved in the outdoors in farming, or livestock, and other outside activity that caused us to notice the sky and its changes. Now we have to depend on people like me to help us take notice.

I do hope you are being entertained, if not amazed, by the things going on over our heads, after all, as it says in Psalm eight, "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?"

SKY WATCH: Third quarter moon, April 13. Saturn at opposition, April 15. The moon and Neptune have a close encounter Monday morning, April 16, at 5 a.m. MDT.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.

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Vernon Whetstone
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