After 150 orbits around the sun, the City of South Bend will celebrate its sesquicentennial on May 22, 2015. What will the celestial circumstances portend? What do I see with confidence happening? Here are my predictions of heavenly guideposts.
I foresee a mighty alignment of planets, the moon, and a star cluster. Yes, it's quite clear, even if the weather is not. Jupiter, the king of the planets, and Venus, the godess of love and symbol of birth, will bracket a nearer and further spectacle. Imagine what this means for the rebirth of South Bend.
Nearer to earth than the bookend planets will be a thin crescent moon, so special it can be seen in the daytime sky shortly after sunset. It's a moon previously visited by humans, but now seemingly out of reach. We gaze into our digital devices and seek clarity, yet fail to gaze at a phasing orb and marvel at its influence. The moon indeed influences life on earth. It holds sway over a significant energy source that remains untapped yet ubiquitous along coastlines. When the moon is full, we make claims of its chicanery, as if it were the coyote of North American skylore.
Much further away, also aligned between the Jupiter-Venus pair, stars are abuzz in anticpation of the SB150 birthday celebration. The wondrous Beehive Cluster stirs the imagination. While the rest of the night's starfield is a scattering of disperse stars, here within a tight grouping appear many stars in close formation. Twilight will challenge you in spotting the Beehive Cluster in Cancer the Crab, so a telescope is requisite until the horizon murk intervenes.
The planets themselves seem amiss this Friday night, May 22. At the anniversary of South Bend's first midnight, Jupiter in particular has all four visible planets dangling uneasily to one side. The scenario lacks balance, with Jupiter at risk of tumbling askew from the collective tug. Or is Jupiter the dazzling pendant on a swinging chain of moons?
Thankfully, balance is restored the next day as Europa and Io are paired on one side of the massive planet while Ganymede and Callisto are paired on the other side. What does this imbalance corrected mean for South Bend? These are the anticipations that weigh on one's mind, yet with a positive outlook for the future.
Earth continues to rotate. While the twilight alignment settles into the west, additional nighttime sights await. Saturn with its unmistakable rings rises quietly in the east. Looking at it through a telescope for the first time, people often confirm, "It is Saturn," as if the scope tender had been telling a lie up until then. That, or "Oh, wow!" Saturn never ceases to amaze.
To the north, another star is significant for South Bend's sesquicentennial, only it's not Polaris. Rather, the brightest star in the head of Draco the Dragon is Eltanin (el-TAY-nin). Those photons of light striking your eye left Eltanin around 1865, around the time South Bend's founders were penning the documents of incorporation. Traveling at the speed of light--186,000 miles per second--the starlight is just now reaching your retina in South Bend. Serendipitous, or significant?
Science is the Business of Making Predictions
Actually, "reading the stars" and horoscopes for astrology are just manipulations of easy astronomy. Even Galileo sold horoscopes to finance his pursuits. Science is in the business of making predictions. For more images of star charts for the SB150 sky in May 2015, see my Preview of the May Sky. Other ventures in astronomy to celebrate South Bend's sesquicentennial are at First Midnight.
Check back with the Nightwise blog to see where telescopes will be set up on South Bend's birthday weekend.