How Fast is the Earth Moving? – A Quiz

A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.
A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.

“How fast?” means “What is our velocity?” Velocity is a speed combined with a direction. We can figure out our speed and our direction on the Earth by looking at these 6 motions and directions…

But, before you read these, try to think of the 6 different motions that the Earth has.

Just putting some space in here to give you time to think about the Quiz.

_________________________________________________

The answer:

  1. Rotation of Earth (cycle) – 0.5 km/sec
  2. Orbit around Sun (cycle) – 30 km/sec
  3. Solar System through Galaxy (cycle) – 200 km/sec
  4. Milky Way Galaxy moving toward Andromeda within the Local Group (non-cyclical toward Andromeda)- 109 km/sec
  5. Local Group motion inside Virgo Supercluster (non-cyclical toward “overdense” regions) – 300 km/sec
  6. Cosmic Void repulsion (non-cyclical) – 600 km/sec

Earth’s Overall motion = 368 km/sec +/- 30 km/sec depending on season

Our overall direction of motion? The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) tells us generally which direction we are moving in: towards the “overdense” regions of the Cosmic Void.

References

Thanks for Ethan Seigel for gathering all the relevant data points for this quiz.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/06/16/how-does-earth-move-through-space-now-we-know-on-every-scale/#4a1dd5d4861f

Constellations of the Zodiac in Order

Learning the Zodiac constellations in order is a great way to get familiar with the ecliptic and the celestial sphere. The Zodiac is not just for astrology – astronomers use the constellations of the Zodiac to name 13 regions of the sky.

Zodiac Constellations zoomed in on Ophiuchus – the “13th” Zodiac Constellation between Sagittarius and Scorpio. The constellation borders (marked red) show how astronomers divide up the sky into named regions.

Zodiac Constellations List

These are the Zodiac constellations in the correct order from Aries to Pisces.

OrderMnemonicNameDescriptionEmojis
1AllAriesRam♈ 🐏
2TheTaurusBull♉ 🐄
3GreatGeminiTwins♊ 👯‍♂️
4ConstellationsCancerCrab♋ 🦀  
5LookLeoLion♌ 🦁
6VeryVirgoVirgin♍ 👰
7LovelyLibraScales♎ ⚖️
8ShiningScorpioScorpion♏ 🦂
9OrderlyOphiuchusSnake-wrestler⛎ 🐍🤼‍♂️
10StarsSagittariusArcher♐ 🏹
11CreatingCapricornGoat-Fish♑ 🐐🐠
12AnimalAquariusWater-bearer♒ 🚰
13PatternsPiscesFish♓ 🐟
Table showing the order of the Zodiac Constellations, their names, descriptions, and emojis

Memorize the Constellations of the Zodiac in order

This mnemonic (memory device) can help you remember the correct order of the constellations of the Zodiac. This is the best way to memorize the order of the constellations of the Zodiac. It starts with Aries and ends with Pisces.

“All the great constellations look very lovely; shining, (orderly) stars creating animal patterns.”

Alex Davo (original – orderly added by DC)

This sentence is good too – it’s a little bit more romantic.

“A time gone, cowboys loved viewing little stars, (oh) so cold and pretty.”

– Terry Johnson (original – oh added by DC)

Why does the Zodiac constellations list start with Aries?

When astrology was invented it was the same activity as astronomy – observing and cataloging sky objects and their locations) but over the years the two practices have become very different. Astrology is now concerned with how the movement of the skies affects humans while astronomy has become a science. Scientists build knowledge to make predictions about physical events.

During early astrology/astronomy times, the most important thing about the study of the stars was to know where the Sun, Moon, planets, and other solar system objects were located in relation to the steady, orderly background of stars.

Why does the order of the Zodiac constellations read right to left?

The Sun moving “through” Aries into Taurus over a month. Each frame of the animation is about 3 days.

The Sun, Moon, and planets seem to move “through” these 13 constellations in order through the year. Starting with Aries, let’s follow the movement of the Sun against the backdrop of the steady stars. The next constellation that the Sun “moves into” is Taurus. Taurus is to the east (left) of Aries! The Sun appears to move into the next Zodiac constellation about once a month.

We know that the Sun is not moving – that it only appears to move through the sky – and that it is the Earth’s orbital motion that is creating this apparent movement.

Why did we add Ophiuchus to the original 12 Zodiac constellations?

Ophiuchus is a constellation, not an astrology “sign.” However, it is an official constellation that intersects the ecliptic. So, while astrologers do not consider this a Zodiac sign, astronomers include it because the constellation is located on the ecliptic.

The Ecliptic is a path in the sky that solar system objects follow

The solar system objects move generally west-to-east in a small band of the sky – this band of sky is called the ecliptic. All the Zodiac constellations are “on” the ecliptic and all the Sun, Moon, planets and other solar system objects move along the ecliptic over time.

There is another line in the sky called the celestial equator that is an imaginary line the rises from the equator of the Earth. The celestial equator and the ecliptic intersect at a “location” in the sky.

Right now in 2020 that intersection location is “in” the constellation Pisces.

The thin, diagonal line that connects the Zodiac constellations is called the ecliptic. This image shows the ecliptic intersecting with the celestial equator.

However, when astrology was created this intersection point was “in” the constellation Aries.

This image shows the intersection of the ecliptic with the celestial equator in the year 100 BCE.

This was known as the “First Point of Aries.” Astronomer Guy Ottewell writes about this imaginary point in the sky on his website UniversalWorkshop.

Summary

You can learn the order of the Zodiac constellations by using the mnemonic device shown in this article. There is a pathway in the sky that the solar system objects seem to follow. It is called the ecliptic. The Zodiac constellations are the 13 constellations lined up in the sky “on” this imaginary line.

The order of the Zodiac constellations is made because of the way the Sun, Moon, and planets seem to move east-to-west past these constellations in order during the year.

We start the Zodiac names list with Aries because the Zodiac constellations were first named thousands of years ago. At this time, the ecliptic intersected the celestial equator “in” the constellation Aries.

Moon Phases Names – an easy way to remember

The 8 Moon Phases Names

Here are the “official” 8 Moon Phases in order:

  1. New – the new moon is not visible
  2. Waxing Crescent – the Moon starts growing
  3. First Quarter – the moon looks like half a circle
  4. Waxing Gibbous – still growing
  5. Full – we see the entire circle of the Moon lit up
  6. Waning Gibbous – the Moon starts shrinking
  7. Third Quarter – again only half a circle is visible
  8. Waning Crescent – the Moon is about to disappear
  9. New (again) – the new Moon is not visible 
The Moon Phases names in the correct order showing the progression from new moon, through waxing moons, to full moon, then back down through waning moons, to new moon again in a cycle
The Moon Phases in left-to-right order with the official names – you might sometimes see “last quarter” used where the correct name is “third quarter.”

Moon phase names – The Moon Hat 

The Moon Hat is no ordinary hat - it makes a great science gift - it teaches you how to remember the phases of the Moon.
The Moon Hat is a science gift for the curious. Precisely placed Moon phases “point” to the Moon in the sky and help you find it day or night.

Buy a Moon Hat (a great science gift made by Star In A Star – order today and get FREE shipping), you can learn all about the Moon phases every time you wear the hat. The Moon Hat is a scientific “moon-finder” instrument that helps you locate the Moon in the sky day or night.

The Moon Hat is one in a line of “Science Clothing – clothing that makes you smarter!” It was invented and is made and sold by Daniel Cummings – the owner of this website and the author of this blog.

Play with the Moon Phases in order from right to left

This is a “physical model” of the Moon’s phase changes. Move the mouse Right to Left.

Each day the Moon moves leftward (east) through the sky – for people looking at it from the northern hemisphere. As it moves through a 29.5 day orbit, the Moon grows and then shrinks again. It starts New, grows Full, then wanes to New again.

Move your mouse from right to left on these Moon Phase emojis to recreate the correct order of phases as the Moon moves in its orbit.

Remember the 8 Moon phases

The main Moon Phase cycle is very simple and symmetrical:

New -> WAXING -> Full -> WANING -> New.

Studying for a Moon Phases quiz?

You can shorten the Moon phase names to: “Never can quit getting food” = NCQGF

NCQGF = New, Crescent, Quarter, Gibbous, Full

Just remember that sequence of letters: NCQGF. That gives you the order of the waxing phases, then reverse it to get the waning phases: FGQCN. The good thing about this sequence of letters is that you just have to memorize it one way! During your Moon Phases quiz you can write it down and then reverse it.

FGQCN = Full, Gibbous, Quarter, Crescent, New

The list of 8 Moon phases to memorize

The Moon Phases happen in a cycle that repeats.

New, wax crescent, 1st quarter, waxing gibbous,
Full, waning gibbous, 3rd quarter, waning crescent,
New (again).

What is Waxing and What is Waning

Waxing = growing

Waning = shrinking.

You can remember wax and wane because wax is growing like putting layers of wax on something. Like in the old Karate Kid movie “wax on.”

A mnemonic – DOC – will help you learn the Moon phases names

Here’s a good way to remember the order of the Moon phases if you have to choose the phase name based on an image of the phase: DOC. 

The three letter word DOC is a good mnemonic for remembering the Moon phases names and how they grow first and then shrink. It’s a “shape-ronym” –  I have a feeling I just invented that name – it’s where the letter shapes help you remember something.

If the Moon phase is shaped like the letter D that means it is growing (waxing). If the Moon phase is shaped like the letter C that means it is shrinking (waning). If it’s shaped like the letter O – it is full: in between waxing (D) and waning (C).

You can remember that “light starts on the right” of the waxing crescent, then it grows to full, then shrinks to the crescent where “the only light left is on the left.”

Moon phases names in order make the shapes of the letters DOC in order - it's a good mnemonic to remember the phases of the Moon and whether it is waxing or waning

NOTE: if you are in the southern hemisphere the mnemonic is COD because the Moon is Upside Down.

Start – The Waxing Moon D

As soon as the growing (waxing) Moon becomes a Waxing Crescent Moon we can see that the shape of the lit up part of the crescent can make the capital letter D. As the Moon grows through to Waxing Gibbous phase it is still shaped like a capital D.

Middle – The Full Moon O

The Full Moon is shaped like a capital O.

End – The Waning Moon C

The waning phases make the shape like a capital C.

Moon Phases Names patterns

Here are a some interesting patterns in the Moon phases names.

  1. The cycles repeat – New to Full to New (again).
  2. The Moon grows (waxes) and then shrinks (wanes) again. Why doesn’t the Moon grow to a Full Moon and then just blink out and start again… or maybe it could stay the same shape all the time… so many possibilities… why does it grow and then shrink?
  3. The New Moon is the commonly accepted “beginning” and also the “end” of the cycle.
  4. Gibbous is a really weird word – it is from the Latin “hunch or hump.”
  5. There is a first and third quarter, but no 0th or 4th quarter.
  6. Wax and Wane are more weird, old words – they are words originally handed down from the ancient language Sanskrit that made their way through history to old German and finally to old English.

The Moon’s Missing Quarters, weird

What’s the deal with First Quarter and Third Quarter?

Astronomy names can be unusual sometimes. The Moon has a “First Quarter” and a “Third Quarter”… but it has no “Second Quarter” and no “Fourth Quarter” or “Zeroth Quarter.”

The Second Quarter would be the Full Moon but we don’t use that name. But, then what would the New Moon be called? Is it the Zeroth (0th) quarter or the Fourth (4th) Quarter? Is the New Moon the beginning or the end of the orbit? Based on the more common name it should be called the zeroth quarter because it is the “New” part of the orbital cycle. Zero = nothing and during the New Moon there is no Moon visible.

The Moon is at “First Quarter” but its shape is half a moon!

This is kind of strange too: the moon looks like a “half moon” two times during the moon’s cycle. It is a half moon as it grows (waxes) and becomes a half moon again when it shrinks (wanes). The moon is clearly showing half a moon.

Confusingly, astronomers actually call the “half moon” a “quarter moon.”

Regular people call it a “half moon” even though astronomers call it a quarter moon. We should all call the first quarter moon the “waxing half moon” and the third quarter moon the “waning half moon.” But, these are not common names at all!

Actually, I’d like to call the first quarter (waxing half moon) the “Earth’s tail moon” and the third quarter (waning half moon) the “Earth’s nose moon.” These names point out a neat fact about the Moon’s orbit – it crosses the Earth’s orbit twice a month – once at first quarter, then again at third quarter.

Anyway, why do astronomers call a half moon the quarter moon?

Astronomers use the quarters to talk about the orbit of the Moon and its location in the orbital path. The name “quarter” says “the Moon is a quarter of the way through its orbit now.”

The moon phases names are odd

How to remember the phases of the moon? Let’s face it, the Moon phases are named with really old words – the kind of words we don’t really use anymore, but we are stuck with them because the Moon is kind of important and we can’t just ignore it.

Here is a good way to think about the words tied to the phases of the Moon. These words describe 4 things: the “age” of the Moon, the apparent “shape” of the Moon, its direction of growth, and its location in its orbit around the Earth:

Age, Shape, Growth, Orbit

These words describe the “Age” of the Moon: new moon, quarter moon,

These word describe the “Shape” of the Moon: half moon, full moon, gibbous moon and crescent moon.

These words describe the “Growth” of the Moon: waxing (growing) moon and waning (shrinking) moon,

This word describes the Orbit of the Moon: quarter moon.

The Moon moves in orbit

Each day, the Moon moves along an orbit that carries it around the Earth. It takes about 29.5 days for the Moon to make a complete trip from one New Moon to the next New Moon.

Each day the Moon moves about 1/27th of the sky: 360˚/27.5 days = 13.1˚ per day. This is about the distance between your index finger and your pinky held up at to the sky at arms length. The Moon moves eastward each day toward the dawn.

The Sun is always lighting up half of the Moon.

The light of the Sun always comes from one place – the Sun! Light from the Sun hits the Moon and lights up half of the Moon at all times.

However, it is not always the same half that we are looking at from Earth. The Moon shows us only part of its bright side for most of its 29.5 day orbit. It’s only during the Full Moon that we see the entire “half” illuminated Moon.

The Moon seems to change shape

The Moon changes phase because the Moon moves. As it moves, we see different light from the Sun reflecting off the Moon every second. The amount of light we can see changes every second as it moves through space around the Earth.

A fun and easy thing to watch with a telescope is to look at the Moon and see the Sun’s light casting changing shadows on the Moon.

Summary

This article summarized the names of the phases of the Moon and pointed out some interesting patterns. You learned a mnemonic (shape-ronym) device to help remember the order of the Moon phases.

Zodiac Wavy Charts User Guide

I want to share this amazing object with you.

It’s a skeleton key to the sky. It’s a poster. It’s a tome.

Guy Ottewell’s Zodiac Wavy Chart 2019 poster

Guy Ottewell’s Zodiac Wavy chart poster.

This poster is HUGE. 24 inches wide x 36 inches tall. Also, it’s glossy and beautiful and full of engrossing details. You will return to this poster month after month and dwell on the intricate and scientifically-accurate renderings.

It is like a Moon Calendar but it shows the actual Moon position as well as its phase and date – plus it includes everything else in the sky. Best of all, it adds the “backdrop” of the zodiac constellations so you can see how everything moves among the stars.

The Zodiac Wavy Charts poster portrays the wildness of the Moon and its dynamic motion through the sky – all in a beautiful, informative, and rewarding wall hanging.

BUY the Zodiac Wavy Charts poster here – it’s on sale!

Guy Ottewell’s Zodiac Wavy Charts is a snapshot of the calendar month. Every day’s events are “layered” onto a wavy band. Think of those wavy charts in 3-dimensions: You can pluck one off the page, stitch it together into a ring, enlarge it, and step inside it and you’ve got a view of the most interesting and active sky chart you’ve ever seen!

It’s Better than a Moon Calendar

Moon Calendar 2019

In a standard Moon Calendar the day squares contain the Moon phase images. The Moon images can be arranged artfully, but mostly they are placed to make the Moon conform to the month; the Moon gets “captured” into our cultural calendar. You can see the phase and the day the Moon phase will happen. This is good as far as it goes… but the Zodiac Wavy Charts poster is 100x better!

Guy Ottewell’s Zodiac Wavy Charts can tell you the day the Moon phase will happen. Also, it shows exactly where in the sky, and in which part of the Moon’s orbit it will happen. It tells you which part of the Moon is titled toward you, if it’s in an ascending or descending part of its orbit, and what constellation it is in.

This yearly calendar packs information that will teach you how to observe and will help you make sense of the sky. It’s like having an expert astronomer on-call all year long.

If you don’t have a Zodiac Wavy charts poster yet – you can order it here at Universal Workshop. The rest of this article will help people use the deep details on the poster to understand the motions of sky objects.

Quickstart Guide – Using the ZOD poster

Note: the Zodiac Wavy charts poster shows a northern hemisphere viewpoint. All writing here assumes you are in a northern hemisphere location.

Before you read this guide, please read Guy Ottewell’s text at the bottom of the poster. It explains many of the key items visible in the chart and serves as a legend. Guy’s writing provides a wonderful tour of the deep information revealed by these charts.

Unique Design Elements Tell the Story

The Sun’s movement in 1 month.

Guy uses clever graphic design techniques to communicate how things move in the sky. For instance, to indicate how far the Sun moves in a month he expands the Sun with concentric rings. This clearly shows the sky location on the 1st of the month (the right edge of the outer yellow ring), the 16th of the month (the central Sun image), and the last day of the month (the left edge of the yellow ring).

The Moon’s movement by day and libration.

Another unique design element (a variable-size red triangle) indicates the Moon’s current libration – tilt – towards or away from the Earth. Knowledge of the Moon’s libration helps observers see hidden Moon formations.

The Moon moves dynamically and this poster helps you really see that motion each day.

Spectral types shown on the poster.

Other things to note about the poster:

  • The stars are sized and colored to indicate their apparent magnitude and spectral class,
  • the constellation boundaries are indicated,
  • planetary retrograde motion is shown with variable-sized arrows, and
  • all solar eclipses and lunar eclipses are indicated.
The Astronomical Calendar Any Year has 20 pages of celestial events for 2019.

Guy also has prepared a detailed list of celestial events throughout the year that you can use to pinpoint on the Zodiac Wavy Charts. The Astronomical Calendar Any Year (or ACAY for short) has a FREE listing of celestial events. You can download the year’s worth of observing data in a PDF file from Guy’s website Universal Workshop.

Read the Charts from Right to Left

The Zodiac Wavy Chart should be read from right-to-left.

The Sun, Moon, and planets move (in general) from right to left across the sky. So too the Zodiac Wavy chart should be read from right to left. You can see the Moon phase images (and day numbers) grow from right-to-left. You can observe that the Sun moves from right-to-left over the month.

Sometimes when the Moon “overlaps” itself during a calendar month, the numbering looks a little funny – this happens because the calendar month is not the same as the Moon phase month (except February) the calendar month is always longer. This article about Blue Moons shows what happens when we try to squeeze the Moon into our monthly boxes.

The first and last wavy charts have lots of text indicating the constellation names, but the middle charts leave them out for clarity. If you want to find out which constellation a celestial object is “in” you can refer to the January or December charts.

Start with the Sun as the Anchor

Use the Sun as the anchor for understanding how to read the charts. Look to the left of the Sun image in each month. The space spanning 6 constellations to the left (east) of the Sun shows you the night sky at sunset. The space spanning 6 constellations to the right of the Sun shows you the pre-sunrise sky. The midnight sky is always centered about 6 constellations to the left of the Sun. You can imagine the whole of the night sky by centering your eye on the anti-Sun which shows the location of midnight on the 16th of the month.

The Sky at Midnight – Anti-Sun and the Full Moon

The anti-Sun indicates the meridian (the middle of the sky) at midnight. The anti-Sun also moves from right-to-left through the sky. It could be displayed with the same-sized concentric Sun rings. It marks midnight and you can see that the Full Moon is always close by.

Tilt the Poster to Line Up with the Sun

Here’s a fun idea: turn the poster sideways and place it on an east or west wall at sunset to “see” the star band lined up with the rising “anti-sun” (east wall) or the setting “sun” (west wall). Anchoring to the Sun or the Anti-Sun may help you visualize how the Zodiac Wavy Charts poster shows you the whole sky of Zodiac constellations all at the same time.

Why is it Wavy?

Why is the wavy chart wavy? It’s because of the way the ecliptic is tilted from the equator.

The meaning of the waves. It’s easier to imagine this if you think of the Equator as the horizontal and the plane of the solar system as tilted.

Eclipses – Every Six Months in the Same Sky

The location of eclipses = the location of node crossings = the location of the nodes = changes very, very slowly (18 years, 11 days, 8 hours to be exact).

Look at the eclipses – there are a few of them every year and 2019 is no exception! Notice that they all occur during the New Moon or the Full Moon and that they all occur in the constellations Gemini or Sagittarius. The reason the eclipses happen while the Moon or the Sun are in Gemini or Sagittarius is because of the Moon’s orbital nodes. These nodes are “in” these two constellations this year.

It’s not just the Moon that orbits the Earth, the Moon’s orbit nodes themselves actually orbit the Earth. This orbit of the nodes takes 18.6 years! The intersection with the lunar phase cycle and the orbit of the Moon’s apsides is the source of the famous Saros interval – where 2 similar eclipses occur.

So, if you buy the Zodiac Wavy Chart poster for the next 18 years, you’ll see the Moon’s orbital nodes – the location of eclipses – move through each of the fixed constellations!

Retrograde Motion – See it!

Planet motion is cool. Planets close to the Sun never cross the anti-sun, but outer planets do. This confused our ancient ancestors who did not realize that the planets were following an orbital path around the Sun at the same time that the Earth was following its own orbital path.

These two motions (the planet’s and the Earth’s) made it look like the planets sometimes moved backwards (retrograde)! You can find all of the retrograde motions easily and see exactly when and where they will happen.

Measurement – by Counting Constellations

Degree marking – the charts lack any of the standard degree measurements (Right Ascension/Declination or Altitude/Azimuth). This type of measurement is not really necessary for general use of these charts. This is because you can find these measurements in other places.

However, you may want to understand how big each section of the sky is compared to each section of the chart. You can think about it like this: there are 12 zodiac constellations (13 if you count Ophiuchus) and they span 360 degrees of the sky. We can see a bit less than 180 degrees of the sky at any one time so that’s about 6 visible constellations! Just count about 6 constellations and you’ll get about half the sky!

If you divide 360 degrees by 12, you get 30 degrees. So, an average constellation covers about 30 degrees of sky. And the sky moves at a rate of about 15 degrees per hour. That means it will take about 12 hours for the sky to completely change.

Want to figure out how big something is? Use your outstretched hand as a measuring tool. The distance from your thumb to your pinky (when your hand is fully-stretched out) is about 25 degrees – a little less than the average constellation width.

Analemma-ish

A subtle analemma appears.

One interesting after-effect of rendering the Sun’s position in this “wavy” way is that you can see an aspect of the analemma. The slight movement in the Sun’s position month over month traces a very slim half-analemma shape across the poster. There is a very slight speed up and slow down that you can see if you look closely.

Here is an image of the poster showing the slight but noticeable curve that the Sun makes.

Sidereal Map – the Stars Stand Still

These Zodiac Wavy Charts create a sidereal map of the sky. Sidereal refers to the fact that the background of stars remains fixed through every chart while all the other objects move through them.

What do you see?

There are hidden treasures all through this gorgeous image. Share them with us when you find them!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is the Zodiac Wavy Chart wavy? The charts are wavy because Guy wanted to show what was happening at the ecliptic. The ecliptic is tilted at 23.4˚ from Earth’s pole (90˚ from the equator). So, sometimes objects in the ecliptic are below the equator and sometimes they are above it.
  • What is the Zodiac? The zodiac is the collection of constellations that define the ecliptic. The zodiac constellations define a band of sky where the Sun, Moon, and planets can always be found. Fun fact: Zodiac comes from the same root word that Zoo does – and it’s called that because many of the constellations are animals.
  • Is this an astrology tool? No, this is a visual astronomy tool. Astrologers will certainly find this a useful poster to refer to, but it is designed for visual astronomy observation assistance.
  • What can I use this for? This astronomy poster is useful for many things! Mostly, it’s a beautiful wall hanging that will draw your eye and reveal the deep celestial mechanics behind our Earth’s motion through the solar system each year. It’s also a wonderful conversation piece. Try telling people “It’s like a Moon Calendar, but it works for everything else in the sky too!”
  • Can I order this Zodiac poster internationally? Yes – you may have to pay a little extra shipping and sometimes customs duties, but the poster can be shipped almost anywhere.
  • Does the site accept purchase orders? No, Universal Workshop does not accept purchase orders. You can pay by credit, debit, or paypal.
  • Can I order a 2020 poster now? Yes! Please contact Guy [at] Universal Workshop [daht] com or visit UniversalWorkshop.com and make a comment on one of the recent blog posts.
  • Can I order in bulk? Yes! Contact Guy Ottewell for details.

References

NASA Saros page – https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEsaros/SEperiodicity.html

Precession of the apsides – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apsidal_precession

How can I see Venus?

You can see Venus in the sky at two times and locations:

  • in the early evening, shortly after sunset in the west or
  • the early morning, shortly before sunrise in the east. 

Venus orbits the Sun and moves from evening sky to morning sky and back again over the course of about 18 months. Venus makes beautiful sweeping motions in the sky that reveal secrets of the solar system.

See Venus, see the plane of the solar system

Solar system plane
The planets all orbit the sun in the same plane. Image not to scale.

All the planets in the solar system orbit the sun. All of the orbits line up in neatly nested concentric rings. And all of the rings are lined up with each other as if they are placed on a single surface together.

The orbits are all in the same plane. It’s like they are all marbles circling around the sun on the same giant plate. This is called the “ecliptic” and it is visible in the sky if you know how to find Venus.

Intersecting space planes

The “space plane” is not an airplane

The “plane” is a tool you can use to see the way things move in space. This “plane” is not an airplane, but a flat slice of space.

Here is an image of two intersecting planes. Imagine the blue plane is the earth’s surface and the brown plane is up-and-down from ground to sky.

Each object (and movement) in space creates a “plane,” an imaginary slice through physical space. The blue “plane” above looks like the surface of a pond, lake or ocean. A wall or roof of a house is a plane. A dinner plate is a plane. Stretch your arms out and spin in a circle and you have created a plane with your arms.

There are planes in space everywhere.

Your own personal space plane

You create a plane with your vision and balance. You can imagine a flat surface like the surface of a pool of water and your eyes are just above the waterline. This surface moves and tilts when you move your head.

Your head has two eyes that define your plane of vision. Also, your body is oriented to gravity because of your sense of balance – the “personal horizon” is the first plane for you to orient to. Your body naturally coordinates your visual sense with your sense of balance and gives us the sense of being located level on a surface. This is the “sense of horizon.”

A new horizon – choose a plane!

To get good at Physical Astronomy, we have to learn to coordinate our main “personal horizon” plane with other planes of the earth, moon, solar system, galaxy, and universe.

The earth for instance, has a lot of planes, the range of latitudes, the north and south poles, the Arctic and Antarctic circles, the equator, the tropics, a range of longitudes, the prime meridian, the international date line, the ecliptic, the galactic plane and more.

To keep things simple, let’s focus on just one other plane for now: the plane of the solar system. A wonderful thing will happen when you learn to link the plane of vision with the plane of the solar system. It’s pretty easy to do, and it’s a skill that gets better with practice.

The key to linking vision and solar system planes is to know that the plane of the solar system is visible as the ecliptic. One easy way to see the plane of the solar system is to see the bright inner planet Venus.

See Venus see the orbit of Venus in the western sky just after sunset. See how the line from Venus to the Sun defines the ecliptic.
See Venus and you can see the orbit of Venus

See Venus and the Orbit of Venus

Venus is closer to the Sun so we are able to see its entire orbit. Actually, we can’t quite see the entire orbit because sometimes it goes in front of the sun and sometimes it goes behind the sun.

We can see Venus in the early evening and in the early morning. Venus is visible in our sky when it is at the left and right extent of its orbit around the sun. We only see Venus in the sky when it is swooping around the left or right of the sun.

If you want to see the orbit of Venus and see the plane of the solar system you can do it! All you have to do is imagine a line connecting Venus to the Sun.

If you are looking at Venus early in the morning before sunrise or early in the evening before sunset, the process is the same. Imagine a line connecting Venus to the Sun; this is the ecliptic. Venus’s entire orbit covers roughly 1/4 of the sky.

Summary

We learned about two main planes in space: your personal horizon (which changes as the Earth carries you around the Sun) and the plane of the solar system: the ecliptic. 

By learning to visualize these two space planes, we can begin to experience the extremely large dimensions of space.

References

Venus information from In the Sky.

How many stars are in the sky? A Quiz

Have you ever looked up and wondered how many stars are in the sky?

This person is wondering how many stars are visible in the sky right now.
How many stars are in the sky right now?

It’s a simple question with a surprising answer!

This question has layers of answers – the most common answer is “it depends” – it depends on where you are, what part of the year it is, what time it is, and most of all… how dark are your skies and how powerful is your telescope? 

Let’s start with a quick (approximate) list of how many stars you might be able to see at once at night under “normal” conditions with no telescope. (The details on these calculations are near the end of this article.)

How many stars can I see at night:

  • The most stars anyone can see from the Earth (no telescope): 3700
  • The number of stars can you see at a dark sky site: 2000
  • How many stars can I see in my suburban yard: 200
  • How many stars can I see in a large city: 20

Another trick answer to “how many stars are in the sky?” is: “all of them!” All of them are in the sky, but they are just not visible to you “right now” for one reason or another.

I know, these answers are not quite what you may be looking for. Let’s look a little bit deeper by starting our search for how many stars can I see at night.

Quiz – How many stars are in the sky, how well do you know them?

Let’s start by taking a short quiz (answers are just a scroll away, so don’t peek!):

  1. Which star is the brightest in the sky?
  2. Which star is the closest to us?
  3. Which star is the first one discovered to have a planet supporting life?
  4. Which stars have a solar system?

Scroll down a bit to see the answers to this first part of the quiz.

While we are waiting to scroll (and to keep the peekers from peeking!)… let’s talk a little bit about how professional astronomers count the stars.

Annie Jump Cannon – Harvard star counter extraordinaire

Astronomer Annie Jump Cannon found a lot of stars and classified them
Annie Jump Cannon – Harvard University Image: Public Domain

Have you ever tried to count the stars? If you have, you probably gave up at some point because there were too many to keep track of.

In the early 1900s there was a tenacious Harvard astronomer named Annie Jump Cannon who didn’t give up counting! In fact, she counted so many stars that she almost lost track.

To keep everything organized she started categorizing them by their colors. She invented the spectral classification system – O,B,A,F,G,K,M – and personally classified over 350,000 stars!

Her method of categorizing stars is still in use today.

The answers to the star Quiz

The Sun is one of many stars. Proxima Centauri, Sirius, Arturus and Rigel are shown in a size comparison.
The Sun compared to other stars. Image: Daniel Cummings

The number of stars in the sky is…

SPOILER ALERT! – Here are the answers to the quiz above! 

The quiz is a trick quiz because the answers to are all “the Sun.” If we don’t include the Sun in this quiz then we get very different answers and the answers are:

  1. Sirius is the brightest star (it is almost as bright as Jupiter),
  2. Proxima Centauri is the closest star (it is 4.22 light years away),
  3. No star’s exoplanets have yet been proven to support life – the Sun is the only star so far to host life.
  4. There is only one solar system. The answer to question 4 is truly a trick question: “No other stars have a solar system… because only one star is named “Sol” … the Sun! The “Solar System” is named after Sol – the Sun. See: Sol+ar = Solar. Other stars would have planetary systems named after the star. For instance, there may be a “Sirius-ar system” that hosts a planet like Earth.

The Known Universe

Ok, now you are done with the quiz let’s get counting stars. Go outside, look up, start counting!

How many stars are in this picture? We may never know since the know universe keeps growing
Artist’s conception of the known universe. Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi via Wikipedia

Before, we start… There is one tiny problem with counting the number of stars. Even with the best tools humans have invented, we can only see a small part of the universe. Astronomers call this the “known universe” and it stretches about 14 billion years back through time in one direction, and (we assume) 14 billion years back in another direction.

Ten sextillion stars in the known universe

Astronomers have estimated the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy as one hundred billion (this is a low estimate by the way). The Milky Way is an average galaxy. Astronomers estimate that there are one hundred billion galaxies in the known universe (another low estimate). The math to figure out the total number of stars in the universe is as simple as the result is mind-boggling!

100,000,000,000 (one hundred billion – 11 zeros) x 100,000,000,000 (one hundred billion – another 11 zeros) = 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (ten sextillion – 22 zeros)

Counting to one million is not like Counting to one billion

A million is way, way smaller than a billion.

It would take 11 days to count to one million if you counted one number per second without doing anything else. Counting to a billion at the same pace (one per second) would take you 32 years of continuous counting!

Count to 1 million at a rate of 1 per second = 11 days
Count to 1 billion = 32 years

– Arithmetic

If you counted all the stars in the Milky Way at the rate of one per second, it would take you about 3200 years to finish counting our one galaxy’s set of stars.

How many stars in my sky now?

Ok. So, let’s get real. Now we know how many stars there may be in the entire known universe, let’s narrow the question. 

Here is how we will narrow the question. Let’s create a set of ideal conditions that will guarantee we see as many stars as possible.

This is the set of almost ideal seeing conditions. This set of conditions would guarantee seeing the most number of stars that anyone could ever see with the naked eye:

I am on a tall mountain top with no trees looking up at the perfectly clear and calm sky right now. It is midnight. I can now see approximately half the stars in the sky. These near perfect seeing conditions make it so that I can see stars to magnitude 6 with my 20/20 vision.

Number of stars in the sky I see

According to David Haworth of Stargazing.net there are approximately 7400 magnitude 6 or brighter stars. Remember, we can only see half the sky at any time. So, cutting 7400 in half we get 3700 stars. 3700 stars is the greatest number of stars that any earth-bound human can ever see at any one moment without a telescope or other aides.

Stars in my sky right now

Now we know how many stars you might ever see at once, let’s look at how most people see the sky.

Most people cannot see 3700 stars because of serious light pollution, horizons full of trees and landforms, and atmosphere, lots of watery, moving atmosphere floating above us.

If you are lucky and go camping in a dark sky area you might be able to see about 2000 stars on a good night.

In a typical, light-polluted suburban sky you can see approximately 200-300 stars.

In the middle of a big city the number of stars goes down to about 12 to 20.

12 Stars.

12. That’s not a lot of stars. Maybe take a trip out of the city to see the stars?

Summary

You can see 3700 stars under perfect viewing conditions.

You can see about 2000 under excellent dark skies.

You can see about 300 stars in the suburbs.

You can see 12 stars under bright city lights.

References for how many stars

Stargazing.net – David Haworth compiled data on the number of stars at each magnitude and presented it in a nice table.

Sky and Telescope article – covers skyglow, light measuring technology, light maps, NELM and more. Authoritative.

Space.com article – how astronomers estimate the number of stars in the Milky Way.

National Geographic Kids – Mini article on light pollution with estimates on how many stars are visible from different places.

8 Ways to Find the North Star

Find the North Star

You can use these 8 ways to find the North Star (Polaris). These are all fun ways to find the North Star.

Can you find the North Star in this image? It is the star that is closest to the middle of the concentric rings of star trails. This is a long exposure photograph of real stars as seen over the course of several hours during the night.
A long exposure photograph showing all of the other northern sky stars circling around the North Star. Image provided by ESO.

8 ways to find the North Star

  1. Look north and guess – you can find the North Star in a relatively dark region of the sky and there are not many other bright stars around it. If you are south of the equator, head north before you try to look for the North Star because you won’t be able to see it until you get the Earth out of the way.
  2. Use the Big Dipper cup stars as pointers. This is the classic way to find the North Star. The two stars of the Big Dipper cup are known as the “pointer stars” and they show you which star is the North Star. The North Star is about 5 lengths of the pointer stars away.
  3. Camera timelapse – ooh! I love timelapse. A great timelapse of the night sky is an unbeatable way to relax. By taking a timelapse of the starry sky you can detect the apparent motion of the stars. If your timelapse covers enough of the sky  (with a wide angle view) chances are that you will be able to identify the North Star because it is the star that moves the least.
  4. Phone app – grab a planetarium app like SkySafari. Almost every star app these days has a “Augmented Reality” view that you can use to find Polaris. Just use the AR method of holding the phoone up above your head and searching around or you can type the name of a star into the search box in the app.
  5. Observe the sky, patiently measuring the movement of every star. The one that moves the least is Polaris. This might take a long time because the stars move pretty slowly.
  6. Mark a known spot as your North Star viewing spot. This is easy to do with a product like the Star Spot. You can return to that spot any time of day or night  to sight the star – the North Star is always in the same place in the sky.
  7. The North Star is located in between the two easy-to-identify constellations The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia – the Queen.
  8. Memorize its color and the stars around it – this is easier than it sounds! Polaris is a yellow supergiant and has a faint yellow tint. Also, the North Star is located in a region of the Milky Way that has fewer stars so it is surrounded by dark areas of the night sky.

Here is the classic way to find the North Star! Use the pointer stars of the Big Dipper. This is a reliable method for finding the North Star that has been taught to generations.

Find the Big Dipper to find the North Star

Look at the two stars in the picture below. One is Dubhe – which is labeled a for alpha, and the other Merak – which is labeled b for beta. These form the outer lip of the Big Dipper’s cup. These two stars can be used to create an imaginary line to “point” at the North Star.

The distance from the pointer stars to the North Star is about 5 times the distance between Dubhe and Merak.

The North Star is shown in this image as a red dot labeled “Polaris.”

You can find the North Star using the two pointer stars of the Big Dipper (Dubhe and Merak) The North Star is also called Polaris and is part of the constellation Ursa Minor.
Use the two pointer stars of the Big Dipper to find the North Star (Polaris). Picture credit user Bonĉ source Wikipedia

These instructions work for the 80% of people who live in the northern hemisphere – anywhere north of the equator. For the 20% of people who live in the southern hemisphere the North Star is not visible because it is blocked by the Earth. As you move south toward the equator (and eventually move past the equator), the North Star gradually sinks lower in the sky until it stays completely below the northern horizon.

Click here to continue reading…

Where is the Sun?

Where is the Sun right now?

Can’t see the Sun? Maybe there is something blocking it. Here is a list of 10 surprising things that can block the Sun.

IMAGE of floating/flying things overhead (in roughly size order) that can block all or part of the SUN: Flying animals (Bugs, Birds/Flying Mammals), Flying objects (Drones/Balloons/Airplanes/Helicopters/Rockets/Bombs/Blimps), Smoke/Clouds, Spacecraft (Satellites/Space Stations/UFOs), Asteroids, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Earth.
Things that block the Sun.

Where is the Sun during the day? On a clear day, this is a very simple question. The Sun is “up there” in the sky – it’s a big, bright, fiery ball and it’s generally a yellowish orange color. You just point to it – there it is, up in the sky, the Sun.

However, many things can block the Sun. Usually, it is clouds that block the Sun, but not always. Let’s take a tour of the astonishing number of things that can block the Sun.

Click here to continue reading…

Astronomy Koan

Astronomy Koan – Definition

A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.
A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.

An astronomy koan is a short, easy-to-memorize phrase that distills a key teaching about astronomy (especially physical astronomy).

The words are simple enough for a child to learn, but they carry complex insights about scientific observations.

The astronomy koan is a mnemonic that has layers of meaning or presents an ambiguous or challenging observation in a pithy phrase.

Try memorizing one of these – you can bring these with you everywhere.

Four Physical Astronomy Koans


That star rose earlier today.

The moon moves toward the dawn.

Night is where you are.

Same Sun all night. Dusk to the left, dawn to the right.


What do you think about these?

Do you know any astronomy koans?

Share your ideas in the comments section.

Physical Astronomy – Definition of a New Way of Teaching

Definition of Physical Astronomy

Physical astronomy definition using Leonardo DaVinci's Vitruvian Man drawing surrounded by moon phase images
Vitruvian Man with Moon Phases

Physical Astronomy is a new way of teaching astronomy that emphasizes the human body and its relationship to other moving objects in space. The goal is to bring geometric and scientific awareness to a child’s everyday sky observations. Kids learn easily visible sky motions at a “kid’s eye level.”

The Sun does not move… we move

One of the first steps in Physical Astronomy is to forget you ever heard the words “Sunset” or “Sunrise.”  These words (while rife with history, beautiful in their own right, and descriptive) are scientifically wrong. These words obscure the truth of our trip around the Sun. We are on the Earth, the Earth is spinning; the Sun appears to be moving, but it is us moving. Click here to continue reading…