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06/21/2022 – Ephemeris – Summer arrives today!

June 21, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, June 21st. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 34 minutes, setting at 9:32, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:57. The Moon, 1 day past last quarter, will rise at 2:28 tomorrow morning.

Summer arrived at 5:14 this morning (9:14 UT). In all the excitement, I forgot to mention that the waning Moon is passing the long line of planets in the morning. Tomorrow morning, it will be nearing Mars. Today, the Sun will be out a bit over 15 ½ hours for us in the Interlochen/Traverse City area. Also, the Sun will reach up to nearly 67 degrees altitude above the southern horizon at local noon, that’s 1:44 pm. We are now climbing down from those extreme values, at first slowly, but with increasing rapidity as summer goes on. However, the Northern Hemisphere is continuing to warm up. Our warmest average temperatures tend to be near the end of July. What’s really neat is, that the Earth is farther from the Sun than it was six months ago as winter started.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

DSCOVR image of Earth near summer solstice with magnified Michigan animation

DSCOVR image of Earth near summer solstice with magnified Michigan animation. Most of Michigan’n mitt is obscured in the north where I’m located, plus the Upper Peninsula. Image taken 1:26 pm EDT, June 19, 2022. Credit NASA/NOAA DSCOVR satellite in halo orbit of Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange Point.

Summer Solstice

The sun’s daily path through the sky from horizon to horizon on the first day of summer, the summer solstice. Credit My LookingUp program.

06/20/2022 – Ephemeris – Here we are at the last full day of spring

June 20, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Juneteenth, Observed, Monday, June 20th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 34 minutes, setting at 9:31, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:57. The Moon, at last quarter today, will rise at 2:09 tomorrow morning.

Here we are at the last full day of spring. Summer will begin at 5:14 EDT, or 9:14 UT tomorrow morning, when the Sun reaches its highest point on the celestial sphere, and directly over the northern latitude line called the Tropic of Cancer. At that time, folks at or north of the Arctic Circle at about 66 ½ degrees north latitude won’t see the Sun set. As it is, Interlochen is only about 4 degrees latitude south of the land of the all night twilight. It’s neat, around here in the western part of the Lower Michigan, to go out around midnight and see a bit of the last twilight glow near the north. Remember that around here, local or astronomical midnight occurs around 1:45 am. Ah politicians, aren’t they wonderful. And they’ve just made Daylight Saving Time permanent.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

The event at 5:14 am EDT or 9:14 UT is called the summer solstice, or in deference to our Southern Hemisphere neighbors, the June solstice, because for them winter is starting. Solstice means “Sun stands still”. It doesn’t, of course. The sun is always moving eastward against the stars. However, if one checks the altitude of the Sun in the south at local noon each day, the Sun would move higher each day since the winter solstice until around June 21st, and go no further. It would slowly begin a retreat, day by day. That pause at the highest point is the solstice.

01/31/2022 – Ephemeris – The winter circle of bright stars

January 31, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, January 31st. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 47 minutes, setting at 5:50, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:01. The Moon, 1 day before new, will rise at 8:48 tomorrow morning.

The winter skies are blessed with more first magnitude stars than any other season. Six of these stars lie in a large circle centered on the seventh, It’s called the Winter Circle. This circle is up in the evening. Starting high overhead is yellow Capella in Auriga the charioteer. Moving down clockwise is orange Aldebaran in the face of Taurus the Bull. Then down to Orion’s knee, we find blue-white Rigel. Down and left is the brightest star of all the brilliant white Sirius the Dog Star in Canis Major, lowest of these stars in the south-southeast. Moving up and left is white Procyon in Canis Minor, Above Procyon is Pollux in Gemini, the twins. All these are not quite centered on Betelgeuse, the bright red star in Orion’s shoulder.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Winter Circle

The bright stars of winter arrayed in a not so accurate circle. Some call it the Winter Hexagon. These stars are what make the winter sky so brilliant on the rare clear night in winter. Created using Stellarium.

01/03/2022 – Ephemeris – We’re the closest we get to the Sun of the whole year today

January 3, 2022 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Monday, January 3rd, 2022. The Sun will rise at 8:20. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 54 minutes, setting at 5:14. The Moon, 1 day past new, will set at 6:14 this evening.

Today we are as close to the Sun as we’ll get for the rest of the year. The Earth will reach the perihelion point in its orbit at 7:59 this evening, at only 91.4 million miles. Since this is only a million and a half miles closer than average, it doesn’t affect the amount of heat the Earth as a whole gets from the Sun. But, since the Earth moves faster at perihelion than at any other time of the year, it makes winter the shortest season. Winter at 89 days is nearly 4 days shorter than the longest season, summer. I know, it doesn’t seem like it, but we live in Northern Michigan, and seemingly long winters come with the territory. January’s only major meteor shower, the Quadrantids, reaches peak at about 4 pm today. It reaches and falls off-peak rapidly, so we won’t have an impressive Quadrantid meteor shower this year.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Earth's orbit

The Earth’s orbit, somewhat exaggerated, showing perihelion and the seasons. Credit: “Starts with a Bang” blog by Ethan Siegel.

Illustration of Kepler's 2nd Law

Kepler’s Second Law of Planetary Motion: the imaginary line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps equal areas of space during equal time intervals as the planet orbits. Credit: NASA, a screen capture from a video Solar Systems Dynamics-Orbits and Kepler’s Laws.

A note on the naming of the Quadrantid meteor shower. Meteor showers get their names from the constellation or nearby star where the meteor seem to come from at their peak. That point is called the radiant. The Quadrantids were named because they came from a constellation called the Mural Quadrant, back when the shower was discovered. The Mural Quadrant didn’t make the modern list of 88 constellations. The area where the Mural Quadrant resided is an area between northern Boötes, Draco and the handle of the Big Dipper.

12/21/2021 – Ephemeris – Winter starts today as the Sun starts coming back up north

December 21, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, December 21st. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:05, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:17. The Moon, 3 days past full, will rise at 7:11 this evening.

The thermometer and snowfall tell us that winter ought to be here. Well, it will be at 10:59 this morning. At that point, the Sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23 ½ degrees south latitude. It’s an odd name because 2,000 years ago the Sun was in indeed entering Capricornus. Now it’s entering Sagittarius, right above the spout of the teapot asterism we know so well in summer. From then on the Sun will be climbing up the sky each noon until June 21st next year when summer will start. To which I say Go Sun Go! The Sun will almost make it up to 22 degrees above the southern horizon at local noon, which is 12:40 pm, in Interlochen and be out for only 8 hours and 48 minutes. If it stayed that low all year, we’d be in a deep freeze, possibly colder than Antarctica.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Solstices

Comparing the sun’s path at the summer and winter solstices in Traverse City, MI, located near 45 degrees north latitude. This is a stereographic representation of the whole sky, which distorts the sky and magnifies the size of the sun’s path near the horizon.

Earth's position at the solstices and equinoxes

Earth’s position at the solstices and equinoxes. This is a not to scale oblique look at the Earth’s orbit, which is nearly circular. The Earth is actually farthest from the Sun on July 4th, and closest on January 3, next year. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit: ESO (European Southern Observatory), which explains the captions in German and English.

Of course, the winter solstice for us is the summer solstice for folks in the Southern Hemisphere. Solstice is “Sun stand still”. The Sun has been  moving southward in the sky at noon since June, and today has stopped, and will now start heading northward again.

10/08/2021 – Ephemeris – How the Fisher paints the trees their autumn colors

October 8, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Friday, October 8th. Today the Sun will be up for 11 hours and 20 minutes, setting at 7:09, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:51. The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 8:35 this evening.

The tree leaves are beginning to turn to reds and yellows as we advance into autumn. The native Anishinaabe peoples, whose homeland we share, have a story about how that came to be. Of how a magical weasel-like creature called the Fisher or, in their native language, Ojiig, brought summer to the Earth from Skyland. For his trouble, he was shot with an arrow in his only vulnerable spot, the tip of his tail. As he fell to Earth Gichi Manitou, the Great Spirit, caught him and placed him in the sky where we see the Great Bear and the Big Dipper. Every late autumn night we see his tail, the handle of the dipper, slowly swooping down to the horizon where his bloody tail paints the trees with their autumn colors.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT-4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Fisher brushing his tail along the horizon

An animation of the Fisher brushing his tail along the horizon on autumn nights. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

The Anishinaabe constellation drawings are from Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide  by Annette S. Lee, William Wilson, Jeffrey Tibbets and Carl Gawboy available locally and online.  They are part of the latest editions of Stellarium, a free planetarium program.  Links to it are on the right.  Other information and links are available within the Stellarium.

Here’s one of the links: http://www.nativeskywatchers.com/.  It also contains links to Lakota star maps and lore.

09/23/2021 – Ephemeris – The Earth’s axial tilt gives us our seasons

September 23, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Thursday, September 23rd. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 6 minutes, setting at 7:37, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:32. The Moon, 3 days past full, will rise at 9:03 this evening.

The Earth has an axial tilt* of about 23 and a half degrees, which gives us our seasons. Because the Earth rotates on its axis, it has a slight equatorial bulge. Earth’s polar diameter is 7,900 miles (12,714 kilometers) while its equatorial diameter is 7,926 miles (12,756 kilometers), a difference of 26 miles (42 kilometers). The gravitational tug on that equatorial bulge by the Moon and Sun actually keeps the tilt stable, but does cause the Earth’s axis to precess like a top slowing down. It’s why Polaris will no longer be our North Pole star in centuries to come, just as it wasn’t in centuries past. It’s also why the constellations of the zodiac no longer align with the astrological signs of Ptolemy’s zodiac of the second century AD.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT-4 hours). They may be different for your location.

* Astronomers call axial tilt “obliquity” or “obliquity of the ecliptic”.

Addendum

The force causing precession

The Moon and Sun’s gravitational force act on the Earth’s equatorial bulge, attempting to cause the Earth to straighten up and fly right. Because the Earth is spinning, it acts like a gyroscope and the torque to straighten it up causes it to be applied 90 degrees away in the direction of the rotation causing the procession. Image credit: Open Course: Astronomy.

Precesssion of a spinning top

Precession of a spinning top: the spin axis traces the surface of a cone. The axis, in the case of the Earth, traces a circle of radius 23.5 degrees on the sky. Credit NASA.

Precesion animation

The 25,700-year cycle of precession traced on the sky as seen from near the Earth. The current North Pole star is Polaris (top). In about 8,000 years it will be the bright star Deneb (left), and in about 12,000 years, Vega (left center). The Earth’s rotation is not depicted to scale – in this span of time, it would actually rotate over 9 million times. Credit image: Tfr000, caption: Wikipedia.

09/21/2021 – Ephemeris – Autumn starts tomorrow

September 21, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Tuesday, September 21st. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 12 minutes, setting at 7:41, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:30. The Moon, 1 day past full, will rise at 8:23 this evening.

Enjoy the last full day of summer. Summer will last until 3:21 pm (19:21 UTC) tomorrow, when the center of the Sun will cross the celestial equator, an imaginary line above the Earth’s equator, heading southward. At that instant, autumn will begin. Shortly after, the Sun will be up less than half the day. The day and the point in the sky that the Sun crosses is called the autumnal equinox. The word equinox means equal night, implying that day and light are of equal length. Geometrically that’s true, but the Earth’s atmosphere and the definition of sunrise and sunset, prolong daylight by a few minutes. The amount of heat we are getting and will get from the Sun cannot sustain our current temperatures, and it will get a lot colder on average before it gets warmer again.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT-4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Sunrise on the autumnal equinox

That is not a pumpkin on the head of the motorcyclist. That’s the Sun rising as I’m traveling east on South Airport Road south of Traverse City, MI on the autumnal equinox. This is the east-west section of the road. The Sun is rising over the hills some 6 miles to the east. When the Sun is on the celestial equator, it rises due east and sets due west. Credit: Bob Moler.

Sun's path on the equinox for TC-Interlochen

The Sun’s path through the sky on an equinox day from the Traverse City/Interlochen area in Michigan. The Sun is plotted every 15 minutes. This is a stereographic projection which compresses the image near the zenith and enlarges the image towards the horizon. Created using my LookingUp program.

Earth 3 days before autumnal equinox

Earth 3 days before autumnal equinox, 1:17 pm EDT, September 19, 2021. The mitten shape of Michigan was in the clear that day and is visible above center of the image. The image taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the DSCOVR satellite in halo orbit around the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point, about a million miles sunward of the Earth. At the time, DSCOVR was 892,682 miles (1,436,797 kilometers) from Earth.

06/18/2021 – Ephemeris – Summer* will start Sunday night

June 18, 2021 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Friday, June 18th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 34 minutes, setting at 9:31, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:56. The Moon, 1 day past first quarter, will set at 2:41 tomorrow morning.

Summer is just a couple of days away, though we have already been sweltering through a very hot first half of June. Summer will officially arrive for us on Earth’s Northern Hemisphere at 11: 32 pm, June 20th. If you are south of the equator, winter will arrive. If you are listening to this on the Internet, or reading this on my blog, it’s 3:32 UT, June 21st. And to be season agnostic, it’s the June solstice. From the 20th to the December solstice, the first day of winter for we northern hemispherians, (I think that’s a word) the daylight hours will get shorter as the Sun heads south. Solstice means Sun standstill as it stops its northerly motion and will, after Sunday, head back south again. The Northern Hemisphere will still be heating up for another month.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4hr). They may be different for your location.

* Summer in the Northern Hemisphere only. Winter starts in the Southern Hemisphere.

Addendum

The Sun's path on the summer solstice

The Sun’s path through the sky on the summer solstice day from Traverse City, MI. The Sun is plotted every 15 minutes. The Sun’s motion is constant. The closeness of the Sun plots at higher altitudes is an artifact of portraying a hemispherical sky on a flat screen. It is a stereographic projection. Created using my LookingUp program.

Earth and local area near summer solstice

Earth and magnified local area near summer solstice. Image taken near local noon June 17, 2020. Credit NOAA DSCOVR satellite orbiting the Sun-Earth L1 point 994,970 miles (1,601,432 kilometers) sunward from the Earth.

06/15/2021 – Ephemeris – Today we had the earliest sunrise of the year

June 15, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, June 15th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 33 minutes, setting at 9:30, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:56. The Moon, 2 days before first quarter, will set at 1:29 tomorrow morning.

Today is the day of the year with the earliest sunrise, which in the Interlochen/Traverse City area is 6:56 am. We are 5 days before the summer solstice, the longest day in terms of sunshine hours. With the Sun nearing its maximum angle above the celestial equator, the projection of the Earth’s equator on the sky it cuts those longitude timelines quicker because they are closer together than at the equator. This is counters somewhat the Sun’s speed slowing down as the Earth is reaching the farthest point in its orbit. The latest sunset will occur about June 26th, a span of 11 days. In December the span between the earliest sunset and latest sunrise because of the Sun’s increased speed, by being nearly at its closest to us, is 24 days.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Sun crossing time lines

How the Sun’s declination affects how rapidly it appears to cross time lines (meridians)

Analemma components animated

These graphs show how the earth’s orbit eccentricity and tilt of the Earth’s axis (obliquity) affect sundial time keeping vs. actual clocks. This also affects sunrise and sunset times. The figure 8 in the lower right is the analemma, sometimes seen on old Earth globes, a graphical representation of the equation of time (sundial corrections from apparent to mean solar time).

Earliest and Latest Sunrises and Sunsets

Table of Earliest and Latest Sunrises and Sunsets during the year for Interlochen/Traverse City area of Michigan. This table was created for 2017, 4 years ago. However, the instant of the summer solstice occurred just after midnight on June 21st, That instant slipped back into just before midnight in 2021. This is why we use the Gregorian calendar. The slide is corrected by having 3 out of four century years being normal years.