This is the Classical Astronomy Update, an email newsletter especially
for Christian homeschool
families (though everyone is welcome!)
Please feel free to share this with any interested friends.
Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the
ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night,
which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar;
The Lord of hosts is his name. - Jeremiah 31:35
IN THIS UPDATE
Jupiter and Saturn Approach
Mars in the Evening
The change in the seasons signals that 2020 will soon draw to a close. Not many will mourn the passing of this year. But as trouble swirls about this world of woe, the celestial bodies follow their silent circles, teaching humans that there is still order in the cosmos, a reminder to all who will heed the message that the LORD is still in control, that He has a plan, both for us and for our world, so "let not your
heart be troubled" (John 14:1a).
I want to thank everyone who has learned from our Signs & Seasons homeschool astronomy curriculum since we first published in 2007. Occasionally I receive emails from families who tell us that this course has blessed their lives. This is why we still keep the curriculum in print, that more families will discover the LORDs' sky and appreciate the historic role that traditional Classical Astronomy has
played in our civilization since ancient times.
After a very slow start in 2020, we saw a sudden surge in book sales over the summer. Apparently due to the coronavirus situation, lots of families are now homeschooling, more than ever before. So I made the decision to order our largest print run ever. If S&S continues to sell, this last printing should last three years.
In the meantime, I've lately decided to renew my efforts to create a full-color revised edition of S&S and the long-awaited sequel, Measuring the Heavens. No idea when those might be ready. I've had several setbacks since first starting the sequel in 2009. Between my day job and family commitments, it has been very hard to fit in time for working on these books. But I've now reached the
"bucket list" point in life and would really be grateful for an opportunity to transcribe those decades of research before leaving this mudball. So I would be grateful for your prayers that I might be blessed with the time in life to complete this work. Thank you, friends!
For more information about topics from Classical Astronomy
discussed in this newsletter, please check out
a homeschool astronomy curriculum
(but popular with adult readers too!)
Visit our archive of previous editions of the Classical Astronomy Update newsletters, going back to 2007.
Jupiter and Saturn Approach
I hope you all have been following the approach of Jupiter and Saturn. Throughout 2020, these two big planets have been drawing closer, approaching their "Grand Conjunction," an alignment that only occurs every 20 years. This planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn last occurred in 2000 and will occur again in 2040.
Jupiter is a very conspicuous object in the night sky. This brilliant planet is brighter than any of the actual stars and is the 4th brightest object in the sky, after the Sun, Moon and Venus (which has been the Morning Star since summer).
Saturn is less bright compared to Jupiter, but is still comparable to the brightest stars in the sky. Even a small, amateur telescope is sufficient to reveal the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. In fact, these are among the most interesting sights that one can see looking through a telescope.
Jupiter and Saturn can be found in the south after sunset, as night falls. Over the next couple months, this pair will draw closer to the sunset. If you have not had any success identifying these planets, you can find them this week when the waxing Moon passes nearby in a lunar conjunction. Look on the evening of Thursday, October 22 to see the Moon in between Jupiter and Saturn, in between
the constellations Sagittarius and Capricornus. But you can also look on the evening before to see the Moon drawing close to this planetary pair, and the night after the Moon has passed.
Jupiter and Saturn will make their closest approach as they draw closer to the sunset, shortly before disappearing into the twilight glare toward years' end. We have been regularly reporting on these planets with our shareable infographics on Facebook and Instagram and @JayRyanAstro on Twitter. So please follow Classical Astronomy on social media and invite your friends!
Jupiter and Saturn will align in their planetary conjunction on December 21, 2020, the winter solstice. By this time, Jupiter and Saturn will be quite low in the evening sky. You'll need a clear, flat horizon to spot this pair. But you should have good success a few days earlier, when they are still very close, when the waxing crescent Moon passes these planets on December 16 and 17. We hope to have
another newsletter by that time discussing this event in detail.
At their closest conjunction, Jupiter and Saturn will be only 0.1 degrees apart, a mere 1/5 of a lunar diameter. This is extremely close in celestial terms. It should be easy to see both of these planets together in the field of a telescope eyepiece. Though the weather is predictably cloudy in many places in that season, we can expect to see excellent photos that will likely be shared on social
Such an alignment of Jupiter and Saturn only occurs every 20 years. So use this opportunity to become acquainted with these celestial objects over the next couple months.
Mars in the Evening
The planet Mars had been visible in the morning sky throughout the summer. Mars reached opposition on October 13, when the Earth aligned with Mars and the Sun. At this time Mars was "opposite" the Sun in the sky (hence the name). At this time, Mars was seen rising in the east at the same time the Sun was setting in the west. The Earth had moved about a one-quarter turn around its orbit
since its oppositions with Jupiter and Saturn back in July. So Jupiter and Saturn are at positions in the sky roughly midpoint between the positions of the Sun and Mars.
Mars is easy to spot in the night sky. As the "red planet" Mars has a conspicuous copper color, like a shiny new penny. So go out on any clear evening to see bright Mars hanging above the eastern horizon.
In the current season, Mars can help you learn the constellations. Mars is currently passing through the constellation Pisces. This is a faint constellation, not readily visible from the light polluted city. It is however the position in the sky of the vernal equinox. So when you see Mars in the sky, imagine that the Sun is in the same position on the first day of spring.
Pisces is very close to the Great Square of the constellation Pegasus. This is a useful constellation to learn since it is an easy geometrical shape formed of conspicuous second magnitude stars, of comparable brightness to the Big Dipper. So the Great Square can be a good starting point for helping you orient to other constellations of the fall sky.
If you still have trouble finding Mars, wait till next week when the almost-full Moon passes by on the evenings of October 28 and 29.
Hope you all have clear skies for observing the evening planets of 2020!
Til next time, God bless and clear skies,
The Ryan Family
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and
the stars, which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art
mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
- Psalm 8:3-4, a Psalm of David