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Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

That ole beaver moon…

Thanks to enigmatic Wikicommons contributor Gk1089 for this image of a supermoon over the Umaid Bhavan Temple in Jodhpur, India

Thanks to enigmatic Wikicommons contributor Gk1089 for this image of a supermoon over the Umaid Bhavan Temple in Jodhpur, India

If you’ve been picking up on the excitement about the ‘supermoon’ tomorrow (Monday Nov 14), the bad news is that most weather websites we monitor are predicting thick cloud tomorrow evening, although those plucky renegades at Weather Underground promise clear skies throughout. But if you don’t want to miss the biggest supermoon in 68 years, the phenomenon is already overhead at nights, awaiting only the exact moment of perigee, when the new full moon is at its closest to the Earth, tomorrow morning.

This is the second of three consecutive supermoons this autumn, and by far the biggest. The last time Earth saw its satellite this close was in 1948; the next one will be in 2034. An astronomical effect known as ‘syzygy’ lines up the moon as seen from Earth to be brightly lit by the sun. It is already lighting up the nights, particularly after midnight.

It was once know as the beaver moon, as hunters took it as a sign to start hunting in earnest to provide warm furs for the coming winter. Farmers also knew it as the ice or chilly moon, as it was a warning of the approach of winter and the need to stockpile and protect harvests. Best observed on its rise (1947hrs) and set (0518), later/earlier in hillier areas such as Skopelos, and the closer to the horizon the better, it should be visible after sunset until after 4am.

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Thanks to NASA for this shot of a Perseid meteorite over West Virginia

Thanks to NASA for this shot of a Perseid meteorite over West Virginia

Today, Friday, is the peak of this year’s Perseid meteorite shower season, slightly compromised by the fact that we have a 68 per cent waxing gibbous moon obscuring many of the meteorites with too much moonlight, although our homies at NASA reckon that Earth will have an unusually close encounter with the comet Swift-Tuttle this year that could enhance sightings, with some observers reporting hundreds of meteorites per hour. The best time to spot them is in the hours before dawn, so set an alarm clock and hope for cloudless skies. They will be around for a few weeks more, but the showers will get weaker as the comet continues on its eccentric orbit of the sun.

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Who would resent Sir Phil's third superyacht?

Who would resent Sir Phil’s third superyacht?

An eagle-eyed friend in, of all places, a small hamlet outside of Hull, England, tips us off that the likely-to-be-detitled former British Home Stores department store chain boss Sir Philip Green’s modest lilo the motor yacht Lionheart is currently idling off either Kastani or Milia beach, or wherever the disgraced zillionaire is going for lunch today. The hundred-million-pound superyacht is apparently the third in his fleet of superyachts, where he is no doubt contemplating the fate of the thousands of former BHS staff currently unable to afford a bus pass. Our image is purloined from the Sun newspaper, which probably understands our feelings about its copyright.

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transitA small charabanc outing, organized by Georgia Patsea at Dolphin of Skopelos Travel, invaded the country home of master baker and astronomer Giorgos Michelis yesterday to watch the Transit of Mercury on his formidable array of telescopes. Giorgos, whose voluntary Centaurus Observatory arranges astronomy events for school pupils and anyone interested in astronomy, had set up four telescopes in the garden of his home above Ayios Konstantinos beach, accompanied by suitably celestial music and, as our photo shows, recorded by a small camera drone. Early cloud burned off to allow visitors to watch the smallest planet in the solar system drift across the face of the Sun, and they were able to observe sunspots and solar flares. Giorgos’s modesty conceals a prodigious expertise, and we hope to cover his astronomy in more detail soon, if only to wangle an invite to visit his deep space observatory and maybe see those attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion…

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Mercury rising

The dot below the ‘Play’ button is an artist’s impression of the Transit of Mercury
Depending on cloud cover conditions, Monday afternoon and early evening should offer anyone with a telescope, binoculars and either a sun filter or the sense to never look directly at the Sun the once-in-a-decade chance to observe a Transit of Mercury. The smallest planet in the solar system, and the nearest to the Sun (daytime temperatures are hot enough to melt lead and zinc; nights plunge to minus 270C), will spend seven hours appearing to idle across the surface of our parent star as Mercury ‘transits’ in-between the Earth and the Sun. Dolphin of Skopelos Travel near the Skopelos town beach junction is organizing a safe telescope-viewing of the transit on Agios Konstantinos beach with a local astronomer, transport, drinks and snacks included for €20 per person, and you can find out more at their office (tel: 24240 29191), although anyone with binoculars and a stiff sheet of white paper can observe it for free with their own pin-hole camera (Mercury will be very small, and will wobble). You can marvel at some more Mercury facts at its Wikipage.
Thanks to our homies at NASA for permission to use their film.

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Apologies to Olivier Kugler for nicking his map from The New Yorker

Apologies to Olivier Kugler for nicking his map from The New Yorker

As the Christmas carol lets slip, just over two thousand years ago today three undocumented Middle Eastern men in outlandish leisurewear set out across international boundaries to deliver gifts at the birth of a young proto-Palestinian. It would probably be churlish to add that they had misread an unreliable passage in the Book of Numbers and set off in the direction of an unexplained sighting of either Halley’s comet or a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn to do so. The rest, as they say, is history, or perhaps hysteria.

The subject of people crossing other people’s borders has been one of the big topics of the past year. Time was when large population shifts – not least Greeks, Irish, Italians, central, east and north Europeans and others heading for the USA, Australia, Germany and elsewhere – were no big deal, and even welcomed. Some, among them Aristotle Onassis, turned their stories into creation myths of modern capitalism; today, Onassis would be extradited, or worse. Just over the eastern sea horizon from Skopelos, Lesbos greeted its millionth refugee arrival this week, and a quick Google will find the remarkable story of how Lesbos and its friends have coped.

While we don’t want to put a crimp in anyone’s turkey blowout or When-is-Downton-on?-mas, we (at least I, john) felt it worthwhile to share a remarkable piece from a recent edition of The New Yorker: the story of Ghaith, a young Syrian law student, and his perilous journey to safety and a better life, which involved a ferry journey that probably passed near(ish) to Skopelos. It’s long, so read it at your leisure. British readers, at least, might read it bearing in mind that ‘passports’, and border controls, were only introduced in their country in 1914.

The Guardian newspaper’s Christmas appeal on behalf of several recognized refugee charities is fast approaching the £2million mark. You can donate here.

Me, I’m headed out of the deserted 37th floor newsroom of the Skopelos News Tower for a picnic at a covelet past Linarakia bearing what has to be the biggest homemade raspberry cheesecake anywhere in the Mediterranean basin today, at least. Tidings of comfort and joy to all!

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Thanks to Danilo Pivato/NASA for this shot of a solstice over the Tyrrhenian Sea

Thanks to Danilo Pivato/NASA for this shot of a solstice over the Tyrrhenian Sea

We may be being a little previous here, but as it occurs at 0649 local Greek time tomorrow morning we thought we might as well celebrate the 2015 winter solstice today; while it can fall on any day between 20-23 December it most commonly falls on the 21st. And sunrise tomorrow won’t be until 0739. Due to our planet’s complicated interactions with its parent star, you probably won’t start noticing serious changes in sunrise and sunset for another week or more.

The shortest day has been marked by cultures around the world since there were cultures around the world, from the Asian celebration of Donghzi to the, ah, more contemporary Global Orgasm movement. It was also, of course, the season of the Roman Saturnalia, a week of debauchery that saw the social order upended and – Athens, Berlin and Brussels take note – when wars, disputes and grudges were set aside. Enjoy!

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