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.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there
is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in
the grave, whither thou goest. - Ecclesiastes 9:10
IN THIS UPDATE
My First Chrono-versary
Get Ready for the 20s!
Venus Returns to the Evening Sky
This is the fourth newsletter of 2019, and it has been an uneventful year in the sky. As mentioned in our last newsletter in August, there will be a rare planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 2020, and we plan to promote an understanding of that. But this will be the last Update for 2019, so please accept our early wishes for a blessed Christmas and a prosperous new year!
My First Chronoversary
I've mentioned in the past when I had a Jove-versary, completing a 12-year cycle of Jupiter's 360 degree passage through the zodiac constellations. I've had two of these since discovering Classical Astronomy in the late 1980s. The current season marks my first Chronoversary, having now witnessed a complete 29.5 year cycle of Saturn's movement through the zodiac.
In round about 1990, I first saw Saturn in the constellation Sagittarius, at about the approximate degree where the ringed planet is today. Being an outer planet in the cold part of the solar system, Saturn chugs along slowly in its orbit, taking more than two years to pass through a single constellation as seen from Earth. Consequently, Saturn requires nearly three full decades to complete a single circle of the
For this reason, Saturn has always been associated with the passage of time. In the Greek pantheon, Saturn was Chronos. This word is still used to today in reference to time. Many common words have this root, such as chronology and synchronize.
In western folklore, Saturn (or Chronos) is personified by "Father Time" and "the Grim Reaper," signifying that time will eventually get us all. The cycle of Saturn can be used to measure off long periods of one's lifetime. If a 10 year child sees Saturn in a certain constellation, that child will be 40 on the first Chronoversary and 70 by the second Chronoversary. Not many people can expect to see their third
before Father Time catches up with them.
(For more detailed information, see this article Saturn in Folklore from a previous edition of the Classical Astronomy Update.)
This first Chronoversary marks half of my life, which is how long I've been doing Classical Astronomy. This project started on December 15, 1990. I was 29.5 years old and had an "epiphany" of a sort that day. I realized that I could use visual media like cartoons and illustrations to help teach people to understand the common visual astronomy phenomena seen from their own backyards. I was so
excited! I began a process of research, writing and illustrating which has since swallowed my entire life! Now I'm almost 59, and now half of my life has been devoted to Classical Astronomy.
My goal was to help everyone in the world learn all this amazing stuff which has blessed my own life. I had grandious notions of a publishing career, all the many books I wanted to write and illsutrate. Well, that never worked out as hoped. Family commitments and the "day job" have consumed most days. Thankfully, Signs & Seasons and Moonfinder have seen the light of day, but the big, five-part "magnum opus" remains incomplete, now relegated to being a bucket list item that may or may not ever happen, God's will be done.
Notwithstanding, I remain grateful to all of you who have followed this work over the years, and have taken the time to observe and understand all the sky sightings that I've shared over the years. A special thanks to those who have ordered my books and furthered their learning. Thank you very much!
Get Ready for the '20s!
Another decade has passed quickly and here we are on the threshold of yet another. For those of us "of a certain age," it's kind of mind-blowing that the '20s are here again, and that the decade of "the Roaring '20s" is already a century gone by. My grandmother told me stories of her days as a Flapper who danced the Charleston. It's already 100 years since Prohibition and Bonnie and Clyde and all that.
Wonder what the 2020s will one day be famous for?
For my own part, I'm glad to be getting back to a decade that has a name and an identity. Anybody besides me notice that the past two decades have been nameless? I mean, I grew up in the '60s and '70s and those decades were known by those names, as were the '80s and '90s that followed.
I remember asking people in the late 90s, as the Y2K scare loomed, what will we call the next decade? The '00s??? How about the 2000s???? But notice that nobody ever called that decade anything at all. And so the first decade of the 21st century still remains nameless to this day. Nobody really talks about it. Same with the current decade now ending. The '10s??? The Teens???
Nobody says either of those either.
The first decade of the 20th century was sometimes called "the Oughts," as in, "Why sonny, I bought my first Model T back in 'Ought-Nine." But that's not how people talk today. The current decade is not properly "the Teens" either, due the idiosyncasies of the English language. Ten is not a "teen" and neither are eleven and twelve. So the decade of the Teens would be a third over before you ever got to
If something has a name, it has an identity. When someone says "the '60s" it conjures up images of hippies and Moon landings. "The 70s" evokes disco and double-digit inflation, and "the '80s" connotes MTV and video arcades. These decades were always mentioned by name during their times and were the subject of daily conversation by everyone. But not so since 2000. The nameless decades of the '00s and
the '10s have no such identities, though certainly enough notable and iconic events have happened in those decades to distinguish them.
An entire generation has come of age growing up in these nameless, faceless, unidentified decades. So these young people might be in for a surprise when the TV media and the average people on the street will all of a sudden be talking about "the '20s" all day, every day, just like we all did back in the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. Thus, the sequence of named decades is about to resume again, and will likely continue
until the year 2100.
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.
Venus Returns to the Evening Sky
If you're an earlybird, you've no doubt enjoyed seeing the blazingly bright planet Venus blasting its way through the morning skies during 2019. As the bright Morning Star, Venus has been a very conspicious sight through the spring and summer. Those of us who are NOT earlybirds have been deprived of the sight of Venus. But not any more!
The brightest planet returns to the evening for the winter and spring and promises to put on a nice show this cold season. Venus is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon. It's a commonplace occurrence that UFO sightings increase whenever Venus is prominent.
Many people who are uninformed about Classical Astronomy refuse to believe that a "mere planet" can be so bright, and insist that that bright, glowing thing in the sky MUST be an airplane! But when that bright glowing thing doesn't move and just hovers in the sky, they become convinced that must be an object of extraterrestrial origin. In this regard, they are right, but not for the reason they believe! Some
people are so adamant that they'd rather believe they are seeing an alien visitation than a commonplace celestial object that has been famous for millennia of human history, in all human cultures, at least prior to the current generation.
Here's one way to spot Venus and know for sure that you are truly seeing our nearest planetary neighbor. If you have been following the show all summer and fall of Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky, you can see that these planets have been edging west, soon to be swallowed into the glow of the sunset. Meanwhile, Venus has been emerging from the sunset, having recently passed its superior conjunction, or
its alignment behind the Sun.
On the evening of Sunday, November 24, Jupiter and Venus "meet in the middle" and pass each other while Venus is coming and Jupiter is going. Go outside after sunset on this evening to see this pair, looking out in the gathering twilight. This conjunction of Venus and Jupiter will be seen low to the horizon, only just above the treetops, and will not be visible if you have mountains to the west or a lot of large
buildings or trees.
If you miss it Sunday (due to weather or your tardy newsletter writer!) you can still go out any day this week, since this pair will still be fairly closely aligned. While you're out, take a look for Saturn, which is also sharing the sky, though not currently very close to Venus.
You'll have an even better chance of spotting these planets once the Moon enters the scene. We all know how to find the Moon, so when it lines up with a planet in a predicted lunar-planetary conjunction, you can be 100% sure that you're actually looking at the planet and not some UFO or errant airplane.
Such a scene plays out on Thursday evening, November 28, the night of Thanksgiving. After you eat your turkey and night falls over your location, go outside and look for the waxing crescent Moon. If you can find it in fading twilight, you can see that it is clustered up with Venus and Jupiter.
By the next evening, Friday, November 29, the Moon has shifted to the east, which brings it into close alignment with Saturn. Though not as bright as Venus or Jupiter, Saturn will be very close to the Moon, less than a single lunar diameter. Observers in the South Pacific will see an even closer alignment, an occultation of Saturn by the Moon, in which the lunar body passes over Saturn and blocks the view
for a time.
These alignments occur since all these celestial bodies happen to fall along the same line of sight, due to their positions in their respective orbits. Jupiter and Saturn are currently seen in the general vicinity of the constellation Sagittarius. Due to the annual apparent motion of the Sun, caused by the orbital motion of the Earth, the Sun appears to be moving toward Sagittarius. As a result, the Sun seems
to also be moving toward Jupiter and Saturn. In our sky, it appears that Jupiter is sinking into the sunset with each passing night, and will eventually vanish. Jupiter will shift behind the Sun in its own superior conjunction on December 27.
Meanwhile, the faster-moving Venus is outracing the Sun, and moving ahead from out behind the Sun. So as Jupiter is slipping toward alignment with the Sun, Venus is moving away, appearing to rise higher and higher in the evening sky throughout the fall and into the winter.
Meanwhile, slow-moving Saturn is headed toward its own superior conjunction with the Sun, which will happen on January 13, 2020. But in the meantime, Saturn will sink into the sunset and will meet Venus on its way up on the evening of December 10, 2019. On this date, there will be another planetary conjunction between Venus and Saturn, as seen from the skies of Planet Earth.
Venus will have an exciting evening apparition in 2020. On March 24, it will reach maximum eastern elongation, or its greatest apparent distance from the setting Sun. But since this date is also very near to the vernal equinox, the orbit of Venus will be alined with its steepest angle to the horizon, as seen from the northern hemisphere. As a result, Venus will hang nearly 45 degrees above the horizon,
nearly halfway to the zenith! If you're accustomed to observing Venus, you know that it is usually only 20-30 degrees above the horizon, floating modestly above the treetops. But in 2020, Venus will soar high into the sky! Imagine the UFO sightings then!
Venus only does this every 8 years so we'll plan to devote a newsletter at that time, explaining the sky geometry of why this happens.
Once again, the Ryan Family thanks you all for your interest in Classical Astronomy and wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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