Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Korean Star Myth with Aquila and Lyra

Once upon a time a cowherd fell deeply in love with a woman weaver. They would see each other so often that the cows were neglected and the spinning wheel scarcely turned. The father of the weaver became so enraged by this slacking off (even in the name of love) that he banished the couple into the sky.

Their love was so strong that they fell into the sky hand in hand as if gravitationally attracted. It looked as if they would finally be together until a flock of magpies flew in between the two. Their hands separated and their bodies glided slowly but surely away from each other.  The lovers struggled to reconnect but it was no use. When they stuck to the heavens, the weaver was on one side of the great river in the sky (The Milky Way) and the cowherd fell on the opposite shore. The cowherd turned into the stars Altair, Tarazed, and Alshain in the constellation Aquila - the weaver turned into Vega and stars in Lyra.

According to this Korean legend, the couple could meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. Only then could they cross the river because of the magpies. Magpies in Korea flocked like crazy in July - and to atone for their role in separating the lovers, flew up to the stars to build a bridge across the river.  Only then could the couple meet on the backs of the magpies.  In Korea, children were taught to stone any magpies they saw not helping build that bridge.

When the meeting occurs on the seventh day of the seventh month, Altair and Vega shine in 5 colors to symbolize their happiness. Unfortunately, if it rains on July 7th, the couple fails to meet at all. 

Look for Vega high in the east and Altair lower in the southeast after dark.  And check out the lovers on July 7th to see them shine happily.  


Monday, June 17, 2013


Not all moons are created equal.  The full moon on Saturday June 22, 2013 will appear bigger and brighter than any other moon this year.  But the question is, “Can you tell the difference?”

As the Moon orbits the Earth, it slowly changes its distance from us.  It varies from about 252,000 miles at its farthest, to around 220,500 miles at its closest.  When you combine the night when the full moon is also closest to us, that is called a SUPERMOON.

The Moon’s distance changes very slowly.  You can’t tell the difference from night to night.  But if you compare Saturday’s Supermoon to the farthest full moon, the so-called Wimpy Moon of January 15, 2014, the difference is dramatic.  The Supermoon is over 31,000 miles closer, appears 14% larger in diameter and 30% larger in surface area than the Wimpy Moon.  Open the picture above in a new window to see more details.

The best time to see the Supermoon is just as it rises.  In the Cincinnati area, the Moon will rise over the eastern horizon at 8:20pm.  You may have trouble seeing it right away since the sky won’t be completely dark.  Keep looking because as the Sun sets, the full Moon will rise.  The Moon always looks larger near the horizon but it’s merely an illusion.  Technically, the Moon will be over one thousand miles closer around 1:30am on Sunday morning when it will be higher in the south.  That would be the Super-est Moon.       

Since the changing Moon distance is a slow process, Sunday night will provide an encore.  The full moon rising at 9:20pm on June 23 will be less than 1% farther than that of June 22. 

Look for the Supermoon(s) this weekend and see if you can spot the difference.