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What's up in the sky March '08

posted Mar 4, 2009, 11:26 AM by Marvin Stewart   [ updated Mar 4, 2009, 2:02 PM ]
                March was a good month for Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers. March 28,1802, he discovered and named the asteroid Pallas. Five years later, March 29, 1807, he discovered the asteroid Vesta. Since the word asteroid had not been coined at that time he called his discoveries planets. Alas poor Pluto we hardly knew ye.  My source was careful to point out that Olbers' discoveries are now considered minor planets.     
               However, Olbers is best remembered for Olbers' paradox which he described in 1823 as, " If there really are suns through out the whole of infinite space, and they are placed at equal distances from one another, or grouped into systems like the Milky Way, their number must be infinite and the whole vault of heaven will appear as bright as the Sun." Simply put, if there are stars everywhere why is the sky dark at night?
         It wasn't a scientist that found the answer to the Paradox, but American author Edgar Allen Poe. Yes, the man who wrote the macabre stories that the Victorians loved. In 1848 Poe wrote a lengthy nonfiction work, nearly 40,000 words, titled Eureka. In Eureka, Poe used his intuitive perception, not science, to give his picture of the universe. In his essay he proposed that the universe began from a single originating particle, or singularity. He theorized about black holes, and the Big Crunch theory. However his theories were explained mystically, not scientifically. Modern science doesn't give Poe any credit at all. Even Poe's friends thought of Eureka as absurd, as did his publisher who only gave Poe a $14.00 advance for the book.
        Never the less Poe had the right answer to Olbers' paradox in Eureka, " Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us with a uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy, since there could be absolutely no point in all that background at which could not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which under such a state of affairs we could comprehend the voids with our telescopes in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all."
       Two things: My, have we streamlined the English language, and does anyone know if Poe got paid by the word?
       Mar  1-2    Mercury very low in the east, half an hour before sunrise.
               3       Ceres, the largest asteroid, can be found in Leo.
               4       First quarter Moon.
               8       Daylight -saving time begins.
                        Saturn at opposition rising at sunset and is also at closest distance to Earth.
             10       Full Moon.
          12-18     Best time to try and observe the Zodical light.
             18       Last quarter Moon.
             20       Spring begins in the northern hemisphere.
             22       The waning crescent Moon is near Jupiter.
             24       At dawn Mars is a few degrees below the thin crescent Moon.
             26       New Moon.
             27       Venus is at inferior conjunction passing north of the Sun at sunset.
          29-30     The waxing crescent Moon will pass near the Pleiades.