Friday, October 28, 2011

Cassiopeia the Queen

While Perseus was busy chopping off the head of Medusa a beautiful Queen was getting herself and her nation in big, big trouble.

Cassiopeia was thought to be the Queen of Ethiopia (or the kingdom around North-east Africa). She had a bad habit of bragging about her beauty. She believed that she was the most beautiful woman in the whole world - the most beautiful woman who ever lived - and the most beautiful woman that would ever live. And she told people these views about every twenty seconds.

Well one day, the Queen went too far. She proclaimed that she was more beautiful than all of the mermaids in the sea. Now this is no big deal to you and me, but to the god of the seas, Poseidon, this was the ultimate outrage. "My mermaids are more beautiful than that ugly old hag," he said. So Poseidon went to the palace to confront this boastful Queen.

To be continued...

Cassiopeia can be found high in the north-northeastern sky after sunset. Just look for 5 stars in the shape of a squished letter "M". Who's more beautiful?

Who is prettier???


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Perseus the Prince

Let's begin the mighty fall saga with our hero, Perseus.

As the adopted son of a king, Perseus lived the pampered life of a prince. When he turned 18, his father told him, "Okay son, you need to go out and find a job." Well, Perseus thought about this - maybe he could be a banker or insurance salesman - and then it hit him. He wanted the best job in the ancient world... Professional Monster Hunter.

As a son of Zeus, Perseus was buds with the gods they gave him some gifts to help with his new career. From Hephaestus he got a sword that would cut through anything; from Athena, a shield tahat was shinier than any mirror; and from Hermes, winged sandals so he could fly through the air with the greatest of ease. (I think I'll put those on my birthday list this year!)

Anyway for his first monster hunting job he wanted a challenge. Instead of hunting a sassy scorpion or crabby crab, he went after the dreaded Medusa. She was the gorgon-woman who had snakes for hair and if you looked at her you would turn to stone. Whew! She was one tough monster.

Perseus had a plan. He would go to Medusa's cave and set up his shield in the sand. Medusa's reflection, although still ugly, wouldn't turn you to stone. When Medusa came looking for Perseus he watched her in the shield until she got closer... and closer... until she was right next to him. Perseus pulled out his sword and "THWACK!" chopped her head right off! He closed his eyes, picked up the head, and put it in a bag. You never know when it might come in handy. Then he put on his winged sandals and flew back home. But this is not even close to the end of the story.

You can find the constellation Perseus in the northeast sky after 9pm. He is shaped like a letter "K" and if you have a really good imagination you can still see the bloody, severed head of Medusa in his left hand.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Get Ready for the Huge, Fall Sky Saga

Whenever I think of the fall sky, I think of one of the best myths ever. It involves so much of the sky and so many constellations that it is huger than huge. I mean this story includes a king, a queen, a prince, a princess, two monsters, and a flying horse! Are you old enough to remember the mythologically accurate movie - complete with the best clay-mation available in 1981: Clash of the Titans.  I wanted a flying horse!

And the myth never died - they made a remake in 2010 without the clay-mation (that was a little less impressive, IMO). 

So buckle up and get ready this month for the great fall sky saga...

Monday, October 3, 2011


This Saturday is International Observe the Moon Night - that means amateur astronomers around the globe will be setting up telescopes in public places.  If you're walking around in a busy place and you see a telescope on the street corner, don't be afraid.  Amateur astronomers are gentle and friendly creatures who only want to share their love of astronomy with you.  No need to approach with caution - just walk over and ask politely to see the Moon.

This is the perfect week to watch the Moon right after sunset.  When people see the Moon in a telescope their eyes light up. My favorite reaction comes from a 4th grader who did a double-take while looking through the eyepiece. “Man,” he commented, “the Moon sure got beat up!”

Peak in Tycho's Crater
Scarred with millions of craters, the Moon displays a violent past of meteoric impacts.  The most prominent crater, located on the southern half, is best seen at full Moon. The dynamic rays of crater Tycho radiate over 1,000 miles from its dark rim. Tycho is the newest, large impact with a diameter of 50 miles. The crater floor is almost 3 miles deep and features a central mountain peak over a mile high.

Most craters are best seen when they are located near the terminator – the line separating the illuminated from the dark surface. Just south of the center of the Moon you will find three dramatic craters named Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus, and Arzachel. With binoculars and telescopes, these crater walls can be seen with amazing contrast and clarity when the Moon is halfway lit up.