Math. fundamental geometry crucial to astronomy

Nov. 13—How about the lunar eclipse last Tuesday? Did you get to see it? Lunar eclipses are enjoyable to watch and don't require safety measures to observe. The shadings that occur as the moon enters our planet's shadow cast out into space bring oohs and ahhhs from even veteran eclipse watchers. Personally, I am excitedly waiting for the solar eclipse that will be across our Texas next year. We will be gifted with another one the following year. WOW.

If you have dark skies in your neighborhood, you might enjoy scanning the region in the north between the Bears (Big & Little Dipper asterisms) and Boötes, the herdsman, whose shape is that of a bent kite. Draco the dragon is lurking there and it is a spectacular sight, on a clear night. Draco's head is formed by a pentagon of stars near Boötes, with the long scaly tail wending its way between the Big and Little Dippers. One bright star in the tail is called Thuban and was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. About five thousand years ago Thuban was the North Star. instead of Polaris. Since the Earth wobbles like a top the pole star varies over a long period of time.

Remember, this week the peak of the Leonid meteor shower will be Thursday. You may have glimpsed a few single flashes from the early visitors. Seeing the displays that regularly visit our South Texas skies can be a rewarding experience, especially when one connects them to their personal spiritual beliefs.

The fact that the very time we regulate ourselves with so diligently is a result of reasoning that the sun arcs across our skies 15 degrees each 60 minutes and that those multiplied equal the degrees in a circle, which is a fundamental of geometry, should be a good reason to pay attention in geometry class.

Because our universe is so predictable humans can launch spacecraft from our spinning planet, send them to other spinning and orbiting planets, moons, asteroids, and comets and return samples to land within a mile of their intended landing area years later — all because of math. I have been told these return missions would be analogous to a baseball batter here in South Texas ready to bat, with a pitcher in Alaska. As the batter swings to hit the ball, a fly is in between the baseball and the bat and gets hit and rides the ball into a 3-run homer. Perhaps the Astros felt a bit like that last week. I do hope the math teachers share those connections in their classes.

If you are a planet watcher, Saturn is far to the west-southwest now, faint on the ecliptic and just within Capricornus the Sea Goat. Jupiter is stationary relative to Earth almost due south along the ecliptic and Mars will be emerging from the eastern horizon and likely visible by full dark. If you locate those three planets you will have a better understanding of the orbital path of our solar system's planets.

The Baseball diamond aka Great Square of Pegasus is directly overhead and a window to the flat disk side of our home galaxy. Home to the Andromeda galaxy and also the first exoplanet discovered, this constellation is easy to locate when there is little light pollution. Unfortunately, we are losing more and more of our dark skies and the constellations, which have delighted billions of humans for as long as humans have looked up are becoming obscured. Growth is good, but too much light affects our quality of life, not just our ability to see stars.

Until next week, go outside and look up-you just might catch one of those 'falling stars' to put in your pocket.