FirstLight Astronomy Club

33°29.6'N / 117°06.8'W / 1190 ft.

Skies are Reminder to be Thankful

For many of us Thanksgiving is already a distant memory. The football games are over, the family has departed. Our only reminders may be a few leftovers in the refrigerator.

My personal philosophy is that we should be thankful continuously - not just on one day of the year. How can we use the skies above to remind us to be thankful for what we have? Here are just a few of literally hundreds of ways.

The sun is going to rise later, set earlier, and travel lower in the skies for the next month. This may make things gloomier here, but Down Under they are enjoying the warmth of summer. However, because of Earth's ideal tilt, as we go into the new year our daytimes will begin to get longer and the sun will be higher as we head towards spring. We can be thankful for a tilt that gives us this annual hope for spring and new life, and also allows most of the planet to get a nice distribution of seasons.

Every day the sun rises in the east and sets 10-14 hours later for us over in the west. It is because of our 24-hour spin that we have this. Shorter, faster days would give us very uncomfortable winds and weather. A slower spin of the planet means obnoxiously hot daytimes and freezing cold nighttimes. We can be daily thankful for this seemingly mundane phenomenon - the rising and setting of the sun every 24 hours.

The stars in the sky are beautiful to be sure, but we can nightly be thankful that they are where they are. Our starry neighborhood, those stars nearby, are mostly invisible to the naked eye and are almost all dull, boring stars, lacking in fiery excitement. Most of the stars we see at night are terrifyingly dangerous stars but are so far away they pose little to no threat. I can be thankful for boring, invisible, nonlethal neighbors every night I look up.

We can see the sun and moon every day and be grateful for them. The sun is the ideal size, distance, color, age, composition, type, and temperament for us to enjoy life on Earth. The moon is just the right distance and composition to stabilize our tilt and length of day. They are both godsends.

The very air we are immersed in is an ideal combination of gases found as of yet nowhere else. There are many causes for this wonderful mixture but one is that our planet is just the right mass, and thus has the just-right gravity to hold on to such a mix. I am grateful for all of that.

Daily life among humans can be tough, to be sure, but the physical creation surrounding us drowns us in an ocean of reasons to be thankful - not just one day of the year, but every day.

Until next time, clear skies!

Quick Quiz on the Night Sky

Ready to have a little fun? Here is a small quiz about what's going on in the sky in November. See how much you know, and have fun doing it!

T/F The bright beacon of a light in the west just after sundown is Jupiter.

Regular readers here will recall that Jupiter is near opposition now, over on the other side from the sun. It is the bright planet rising in the east at sundown. The big luminous beauty near the sun as it sets is actually Venus, making a return appearance after spending a while behind the sun. Watch how she climbs higher in the sky over the next months.

T/F In a few days the moon will be at Third Quarter. That means it is only about one "quarter" away from being full.

That sounds kind of right, huh? But "third quarter" means it is three quarters of its way around the Earth, with the "start" time being the New Moon, the time when the Moon is between Earth and sun. Using New Moon as a starting point - not the Full Moon - our satellite travels around the earth reaching First Quarter after a week. After another week it is on the opposite side as the sun and is now "full." A week later it is three quarters the way around the earth. One full month after it started, more accurately 29.5 days, it is back to New.

T/F The only time we can see a Leonid meteor is on the night of the shower, late night on the 17th, early morning of the 18th.

When we have a meteor shower we are passing through the debris train of a comet whose orbit intersects ours. As we pass through it, the sand-sized particles hit our atmosphere at dozens of miles per second lighting up as they vaporize. Those are the meteors we see. But it takes sometimes weeks to move through the dust train. So we can have meteors from that particular comet dust trail for a week or two before and after the official "peak." Go out tonight and you might see a Leonid meteor days before the official peak later this week.

T/F Both Neptune and Uranus are in the skies above us this month and can easily be seen with the naked eye if you know where to look.

Uranus and Neptune were discovered only after the invention of the telescope. That is a big clue as to how easy they are to see. They're not. Before the telescope, people from time immemorial only knew of the big five: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Can you see the two new kids on the block, Uranus and Neptune? Sure, but you'll need at least a backyard telescope and a star chart to find them.

How did you do? No matter. If you learned something, we all passed with flying colors.
Temecula Valley High School / Temecula, CA · Some images © Gemini Observatory/AURA Contact Me