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Strange Universe

  • This week we’ll study seven basic facts about the universe like how Aristarchus, 18 centuries before Copernicus, declared the earth orbits around the sun.
  • Our current, bright sun makes winters more moderate than they’d otherwise be. In the southern hemisphere, enjoying summer right now, the added boost of having this 7% greater Sun intensity should theoretically make seasons more extreme than ours, with hotter highs and colder lows. It doesn’t happen only because they have far more ocean acreage, and water moderates temperatures so that our planet’s two hemispheres, remarkably, balance out.
  • We’ll take a peek at what we can expect in the sky in 2023. Tune in to hear why 2023 is the decade’s finest year for meteors.
  • Dec. 26 around 5 p.m. you’ll see a lovely, low crescent Moon meeting a moderately bright star in the southwest, which is the planet Saturn. Then Dec. 29 look high up to see the half Moon floating right next to the night’s most brilliant star, which is the planet Jupiter. They’ll be out until midnight, with an eye-catching loveliness that has no controversy at all.
  • The public is obsessed with planets beyond our solar system. One team announced finding a planet orbiting the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, with the putative planet orbiting Alpha’s companion, the much smaller and dimmer star known as Proxima. Its nearness at only 4.2 light-years has generated excited talk about sending a space probe.
  • Tuesday night, December 13, we’ll see the year’s finest meteor shower. These are the Geminids, and they deliver a meteor a minute. And you start seeing them as early as 8 p.m. No need to wait for midnight like with those other rich showers. And the Moon will be absent, giving us perfect dark skies if you’re away from cities and artificial lights.
  • This is the week of Mars. Its opposition – when it’s exactly the opposite the sun in our sky – is this Thursday. Its closest and brightest happened a few days ago. And this Wednesday night, December 7th, it closely meets the Full Moon. We’ll also hear what Mars has been up to.
  • For the next month, Mars hovers at its closest to us, which it briefly does only every two years. Its closest approach happens the first day of December. But since Mars doesn’t change much from night to night, there’s no need to wait. You can go out the next clear evening. Mars is that super bright star low in the east at 7 p.m., with even brighter Jupiter far to its right. If you have a telescope also check out Saturn, the lowest star in the west.
  • Everyone knows the terms waxing and waning, and usually know a waxing Moon gets fatter each night while a waning Moon gets thinner. But relatively few of your friends could look at a moon and instantly tell whether it’s a waxing or a waning one. So let's make it easy. The waxing moon is lit up on the right. It's the moon you see during the weeks before full moon. It's also the moon that's already out when darkness falls, so it's the one seen by the most people. The dinnertime moon.
  • Lunar eclipses appear best through binoculars or just the naked eye. The full moon is never a good telescope target, and hosting Earth’s blurry-edged shadow doesn't help much. It's not terrible, like macaroni salad, but Earth's shadow edge is fuzzy, and fuzzy is not a good thing through a telescope.