Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Located high in the southern sky and in a rich part of the Milky Way, Aquila the Eagle was thought to be Zeus' favored pet. Many Greek myths indicated that Aquila carried the thunderbolts Zeus frequently hurled at troublesome humans. In fact since eagles seemed to be the fastest creatures, the Greek associated them with lightning strikes. In other Greek myths Aquila swooped down to carry away a mortal named Ganymede who Zeus fancied. Zeus to his servants: “I’m so busy today. Send my eagle around to pick him up.”

Another gruesome Greek tale involved Prometheus and the Eagle. The gods punished Prometheus for stealing fire from Mt. Olympus and sharing this powerful gift with us lowly humans. As a punishment he was chained to a rock while a giant eagle came to feast on his liver. But having this happen only once wasn’t good enough. The gods magically restored his liver every day so that the eagle could return to torture Prometheus for eternity. Wow, that’s harsh. What was poor Prometheus thinking as he awoke in the morning, whole, only to hear the ominous flap, flap, flapping of the eagle’s wings coming ever closer?  Prometheus was finally freed from the tortuous existence by Hercules who killed the eagle with an arrow. Fire anyone?

Aquila’s Main Star:

Rapidly Rotating Altair

ALTAIR - “Flying Eagle” in Arabic
One of our closest neighbors at 17 light years away
Part of the Summer Triangle with Deneb in the
constellation Cygnus and Vega in the constellation Lyra.

Easily identified for its brightness as well as two sentinel stars on each side of it, Alshain and Tarazed. These stars get their names from the Persian name for Aquila, Shahin Tara Zed, or the Star Striking Falcon.

“She (Altair) steals into the sky timidly and seems to tremble there as if half afraid and shyly reveals her beauty to us before we are scarcely aware of her presence.”  Altair spins so fast that it's squished at the poles!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

BLUE MOON of Cincinnati

Blue Moon over Cincinnati (open in new window for a bigger pic)
On August 31 we had a "Blue Moon."  It didn't appear blue in color or anything it's just a strange label for insignificant full moon.  But anything to get people looking at the Moon!

What is a Blue Moon?

It depends on who and when you ask.  Today a Blue Moon refers to the second full Moon in a calendar month. The term, as we now know it, only dates back to a 1946 Sky and Telescope magazine article by James Hugh Pruett. The term did not become mainstream until 1980 when the radio program StarDate used the Pruett definition - and the meaning has stuck ever since.

The earliest reference to a Blue Moon dates back to a sixteenth century poem.

    If they say the Moon is blue
    We must believe that it is true.

Here the term Blue Moon means something that never happens. Calling the Moon blue is like calling the Sun cold. You would have to be blind to call the Moon blue. Ironically, the joke that the Moon is made of green cheese also originated in the 1500s.

Of course the term “Blue Moon” has appeared in several popular songs dating back to the 1930s. Blue Moon of Kentucky was written by bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in 1944. And who can forget Elvis singing Blue Moon? In these songs, the term refers to a time of loneliness and sorrow, not the second full Moon in a month.

The Moon can actually appear blueish on very rare occassions.  When enough particles are in the atmosphere, like after a volcanic eruption, the Moon can appear a little tinted as in this picture.

On the flip side, what do you call it when you have two New Moons in one month? So far there is no such term. I suggest calling it a Black Moon. That would actually make sense.