Sailors used the stars to find their way home

Can you believe it is already June? As we linger outside longer now that the sun is setting so late, enjoying our valley home activities, make some time to engage in a little star gazing. It is free and doesn’t need expensive equipment either.

If you are up early before dawn, take a walk and enjoy the brilliant ivory gleam of Jupiter and the less bright Saturn that are rising before sunrise (in the east). Both rest along the ecliptic and will be locked on that track as the year progresses, indeed, forever.

The Moon is in the waning phase and next week you may see the always-intriguing sight of Venus and the very slender waxing Crescent Moon in the west as the sun sets. To see it you will need a clear west-northwest horizon; sounds like beach time to me. The repetition of the lunar phases is one of those things that we humans can count on and it never fails to enchant serious luna-tics.

We can still enjoy a brief view of the winter/spring giant constellation Gemini Twins along with Mars lingering in the west a while after the sun sinks below the horizon. By next Sunday the waxing Moon will be near Mars and this may help you locate Aries (Mars’ other name).

The S or J of Scorpio, the Scorpion, will also be emerging in the darkening skies, with the curve of the pinchers followed by the red star Antares, anti-Aries, the rival of Mars. The star and the planet can sometimes be seen in the same area of the sky and do rival one another in color. Antares is a red supergiant star that is huge. If it were where our Sun is we’d be inside of it, and that includes our orbit-not our mass. Its size would extend almost to Mars. And there are far larger stars, if you can imagine that.

We have mentioned the star Arcturus in Boötes in many columns. This star is now almost at the zenith and it is believed this star was used to assist Polynesian sea-farers locate the Hawaiian Island chain and find their way back home…without chronometers or compasses or any other rudimentary tools mariners in later times used to reach the “Sandwich Islands.” The Polynesians wove “maps” using shells and plant fibers to show constellations and islands in the trackless seas.

Adventurous sailors used astronomy to find their way across the oceans of our planets and to mark charts that others could follow by the height or location of all the visible planets and moons and many of the stars, especially our star, Sol.Have you ever considered how significantly their discoveries and ships’ logs changed the world?

Scientific logs and ships’ logs in general are what have ensured progress in the sciences and many important early scientists’ notebooks are photocopied and can be seen online. Galileo’s lunar observations are especially interesting and useful.

His detailed sketches of the locations of the four Galilean moons enabled sailors in the days after he recorded them to get from England to Hawaii, rounding Cape Horn, Cape Hope, crossing the tormented oceans at the ends of the earth and arriving safely back home. What are you interested in about astronomy?

Check out the South Texas Astronomical Society’s podcasts and events to join in the fun and interesting events they are sharing. You would be most welcome.

Until next week, KLU.