The Crestone Eagle • June, 2020

Skies Over Crestone: June 2020

by Kim Malville

June 3: Venus, which has been dazzling this spring, disappears from view as it comes between us and the sun, and then is reborn as a morning “star.”

June 4: Nearly full moon moves aboves Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius.

June 5: Full moon.

June 7: The moon, Jupiter, and Saturn form a line across the sky.

June 8: The moon moves below Saturn.

June 20: Summer solstice occurs on 3:44 MDT.

June 21: New Moon.  Annular eclipse of the sun in Africa, Asia and the Western Pacific.

June 25: The moon comes close to Regulus in the constellation of Leo.

Constellation of the month: Boötes & Corona Borealis

Bootes is close to the zenith this month. It contains the brightest star in the northern skies, Arcturus, which you can’t miss. It will be toward the south about half-way up, a supergiant,  bright and red. The star is easily located by following the curve of the handle of the Big Dipper downward, “arcing to Arcturus.”  The star is famous for having lighted the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Light from the star was focused by the 40” telescope at Yerkes Observatory to illuminate a photo cell that opened the fair’s electrical circuit. The previous Chicago World’s Fair was 40 years earlier, in 1893. In 1933, it was believed that Arcturus was 40 light years away. To the organizers it seemed marvelously significant to light up Chicago in 1933 by light that had left the star at the time of the previous fair. (Now we know that the star is 37 light years away.)

Bootes is often spelled with two dots over the second “o” as in Boötes. That means that you should pronounce the vowels separately: Boo-OH-tes, not simply (as some may say), Boo-ties! It is Greek, meaning cow herder. Boötes is one of those annoying constellations for which it is virtually impossible to find a man herding cows. It is easier to find a kite, or, better yet, an ice-cream cone, in which Arcturus is at the bottom.

Next to the ice cream cone is Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, which makes more sense.

In Greek mythology, Corona Borealis was linked to the legend of Theseus and the minotaur. It was generally considered to represent a crown given by Dionysus to Ariadne, the daughter of Minos of Crete, after she had been abandoned by the Athenian prince Theseus, after she had helped him kill the Minotaur and escape from the Labyrinth. Dionysus, who was the protector of the island, met Ariadne and fell in love with her. When she wore the crown at her marriage to Dionysus, he placed it in the heavens to commemorate their wedding. The opera “Ariadne auf Naxsos” by Richard Strauss is about this cruel and unfair abandonment of Ariadne.

The sky is a time machine

It takes light 8½ minutes to reach the Earth. We never see the sun as it is now, only the sun as it was 8½ minutes ago.  Arcturus appears as it was 37 years ago. Beyond our galaxy the great galaxy of Andromeda is 2 million light years away.  We only know Andromeda as it was 2 million years ago. What is happening now on Andromeda, we shall have to wait 2 million years to learn.

The most distant galaxy yet found, and also the oldest object yet seen in the universe, is in the Big Dipper. It is identified as GN-z13 and is moving away from us at 99.3% the speed of light.  At that high speed, because of the effects predicted by the Special Theory of Relativity, we see a galaxy in which time is running slower by a factor of 11. It is a baby galaxy, formed when the universe was only 400 million years old. Its size is 1/25 that of the Milky Way; its mass is 1% of our galaxy, but in it stars are rapidly forming. It may become like us or may be combining with other galaxies.  When the light that we see left the galaxy, it was 13.4 billion light years away. The edge of the universe at that time was 13.8 billion light years away.  Because of the expansion of the universe, that edge of space and time has moved to a whopping distance of 46 billion light years. That little galaxy, now fully grown, has moved to a distance of 32 billion light years. Needless to say, neither residents of planet Earth nor any other sentient beings in our solar system will be around when its current light reaches the Milky Way galaxy. Our star fails as a benign source of heat and light, expanding to become a red giant and then collapsing as a white dwarf around 5 billion years from now.

The Spherical Universe of Hawking.

The oscillating universe

Stephen Hawking suggests that we live in a closed universe, in which space and time are wrapped around a close surface such as a sphere. The universe moves across the sphere, starting at the north pole, where all lines of longitude are one. When the universe moves across the sphere like a circle of latitude encircling the sphere further and further from the pole, the universe expands until the equator is reached and then space-time shrinks as the universe approaches the other pole. Time advances as the universe expands. But when the universe begins to contract, time reverses and runs backward. If the universe is contracting and time reverses, it would seem to those living in in the universe at the time, that it would still be expanding. As it oscillates it would appear that the universe continues to expand. It is possible that antimatter is simply ordinary matter moving backward in time. During the contracting phase all matter becomes anti-matter.  The astonishing point is, we cannot tell, whether space is expanding or contracting, whether we are moving forward or backward in time, or whether we are matter or anti-matter. Well, that’s like dreaming of being a butterfly:

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” —Zhuangzi