Happy summer solstice, everyone! We just had the longest day of sunlight on June 21st. Each day until the winter solstice will have less daylight hours by a few minutes. Solstice, or “sun”+”still”, is when the apparent movement higher or lower in the sky at local noon stops and reverses.
This happens due to the natural tilt of the Earth. Our rotational axis is inclined 23.5 degrees from the plane of our orbit around the Sun. Think of a spinning gyroscope that is tilted off-center. You can move the gyroscope around but the tilt direction remains the same. Same goes for Earth, but super sized.
Our tilt means part of the year, each hemisphere of the Earth gets more or less sunlight during daylight hours. Same for nighttime. Equal amounts of day and night occur twice in our orbit during equinoxes, or “equal”+”night”.
Enjoy the long days thru the summer months and hope for clear, cool skies!
The internet was again awash with click-bait titles regarding the SuperMoon. Terms once relegated to the Farmer’s Almanac now explode into eye-catching posts like “Don’t miss the rare Full Harvest Strawberry Blue Supermoon!” Here’s what some of those titles really mean.
The terms “Harvest”, “Strawberry” and others denote a full moon’s timing with agricultural seasons, like when it’s time to harvest or when strawberries are ripe. A “Blue Moon” refers to the second full moon in a month, or the fourth in a season, not the moon’s color. The infrequency of these calendar timings lead to the term “Once in a Blue Moon”, meaning not that common.
And the overhyped “Supermoon” descriptor! Ugh, this is a tough one for space and science enthusiasts to hear, because we think the moon is always super! And the fact that “Supermoon” is not an actual astronomical term. The Moon’s orbit around Earth is not a perfect circle but more of an offset oval, or ellipse. When the Moon is slightly closer to Earth than other times, it’s called a perigee moon with a mostly unnoticeable bump to size and brightness.
So always look at the moon, in all of its phases. Not just when it’s close and full!
Early risers will be greeted to a string of planets in the morning skies this month.
Looking to the east about 30-60 minutes before sunrise, you will, without the aid of binoculars, see a line of star-like objects extending upwards to the right of where the sun will rise. These are the planets (from left to right) Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The planet Uranus is out there, too, but it’s not visible to the eye.
This is a great way to see the plane of the solar system and our relative place in it. As the Earth orbits the Sun, we sometimes see the rest of the planets from an edge-on view. Also, many reports will call this a planetary alignment, but really it’s just planets in a line. An alignment occurs when objects line up with a central point, such as during eclipses.
The long days make for later viewing times, but the warm weather helps summer constellations enjoyable to view. Here are some major constellations to look for over the coming months.
Ursa Major, or the Great Bear, prowls high in the northern sky. The shape within the constellation most people know is the Big Dipper, which looks like a large spoon or ladle of seven stars. The last two stars in the scoop point outward to the dim star Polaris, the North Star, which is the tail of the Little Dipper or Ursa Minor.
Scorpius the Scorpion will be rising in the southeast sky over the next few months. Marked by the bright red giant star Antares which forms the heart, there are three stars above forming the head and pinchers. Below trails many stars forming the body and ending in two stars of the stinger. This large constellation fills a large part of the southern sky in later months.
For a challenge, look overhead for the faint constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. It looks like a U-shaped group of 7 dim stars.
Everyday, there seems to be something to worry about – inflation, housing, crime, supply shortages. But here’s something to really worry about… The Sun’s gonna blow up in 3 to 5 billion years! It will slowly expand to the orbit of Mars as fusion converts matter to energy. Less matter means less gravity, and less holding back against an ever expanding star. After boiling off the oceans, the Sun will envelope the Earth and cast off layers of gas and plasma while becoming a brown or white dwarf star. All in just 3-5 billion years and not a milleni sooner.
Or you can worry, or not worry, about the Heat Death of the Universe. As the universe expands, matter will have more space between other matter, thus less friction and the eventual cooling of the universe to absolute zero. It’s just around the corner in 10^106 years!
So don’t stress over everyday things. Just enjoy life, each other, and this beautiful Sierra County we live in. The real stuff to worry about is a long way away!