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What's up in the Sky, June, 2011

posted May 18, 2011, 9:47 AM by Marvin Stewart
                There is always something interesting happening in astronomy and this June is no exception. This month is a complete lunar cycle. The new Moon falls on the first of the month, first quarter Moon is on the eighth. The full Moon occurs on the fifteenth, last quarter is on the twenty third, and the Moon's twenty nine and a half day cycle ends on the last day of the month, June thirtieth. The lunar cycle was once called a Moonth, the origin of our word month. There are two partial eclipses, which are not visible except in very North America and Africa, Asia and Australia during new and full Moon.
               Just think about it for a moment on the twenty first we will reach the half way point in our annual journey around the Sun. And, all the while the Earth turns at 1040 miles an hour at the equator as it moves along at an average speed of 66,000 miles an hour in its orbit.
              You may remember that on the eleventh of May, Venus and Jupiter met in the early morning sky. Now the Earth, which is on the inside track, is pulling away from Jupiter which now appears higher in the sky. Venus is closer to the horizon and Mars is not quite half way between its two bigger sibblings. Mercury now west of the Sun, has gone from the Breakfast Club to the Supper Club, and is in the Western Sky at sunset.
             Mars is easy to find, it has a reddish cast that is unmistakable. The entire surface of Mars has the reddish cast that can be found in our desert southwest. This cast is caused by the high concentration of iron oxide. This rusty color on Earth is in the Red granites of the Rockies and the old red sandstone, like Ayres Rock in Australia and the area
 surrounding Sedona, Arizona.  There can also be found the other colors of Mars, tans and browns, all caused by iron oxide. As a matter of fact red sandstone is found on every continent.
            The Mars Polar Lander found water ice just under the surface of the martian soil. What are the odds of finding life there and what will we find? If I were looking for life on Mars I would look for Protist, also called Protozoa, which are one celled creatures. Remember them from biology 101? There are three main groups: ciliates, flagellates and amoeba. On Earth there are around 60,000 species of protists. Or, how about an ancient coral reef? They are made up of tiny living animals called coral polyps which secrete calcium carbonate to make up a shell. This would show that there had been shallow water and  that simple life had had enough time on Mars to make a reef.
            Astronomy isn't just looking at the sky with a telescope. To understand what is going on it takes the collaberation of all the sciences: physics, math, geology, biology and chemistry. Geologist studied the Earth to understand the geology of Mars. The processes are the same, but the chemistry is different.
            When I was in grade school there was one radio in the house, a Philco console, it was almost the size of a juke box. Not something you could put in a space ship and take to Mars, and besides, the power cord wouldn't reach. Sometimes exploration of space seems like a terrible waste of money but those who have no interest in space or the sky have benefitted from things like the cell phone, the I Pad or lap top computer. Had there not been a way found to shrink electronic devices, we couldn't have gone anywhere. In the late fifties when the dream of sending probes and landers and people into space there was a push to shrink electronics, and everyone has the reward for that effort. To me this is a big part of the legacy of astronomy.
                    June 01   New Moon
                         03-5    The Moon is in Gemini.
                       06-12    Saturn, in the constellation Virgo, is near Porrima or gamma Virginis.
                            08    First quarter Moon.
                      09-11    The Moon will pass below Saturn and Spica.
                           14     The bright star near the Moon is Antares
                           15     Full Moon
                     19-22     Before dawn, Mars near the Pleiades.
                           21    Summer solstice.
                          23     Last quarter Moon.
                          28    look for the Moon, Mars and the  Pleiades close in the pre dawn sky.