Life: Multiply our ecosystem by billions - Brownsville Herald: Education

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Life: Multiply our ecosystem by billions

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Posted: Monday, October 1, 2018 10:09 am

There is one good thing about getting up before the sun does; being able to watch it emerge from the horizon as I streak along the expressway heading to work each morning. Whether the sky is clear or cloudy, there is something enthralling about the rosy or silver colors dominating the east.

The pattern of sunrise, the traverse across the southern sky throughout the day, and changes in that path throughout the year, are a fascinating phenomenon to watch. As the Earth continues its journey around the sun, the sun will appear lower in the sky until winter and the shortest day. Gradually the pattern will reverse itself; it repeats endlessly, exactly, year in and year out, and can be precisely predicted with mathematics.

The nearest star, our sun is the primary source of energy for Earth's global ecosystem. It makes life possible and controls our climate. At 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers, it takes about eight minutes for its light to reach us.

It is 108 times larger than our planet, a ball of hydrogen and helium gases that are continually experiencing nuclear explosions, held together by its own gravity, and a nearly limitless life expectancy, give or take a few million years.

Now, does that give you an idea of what all those other shimmering points of light are? Multiply by billions and all those stars are doing just about the same thing. Some are hotter, or cooler, older or younger; a different color and much farther away, but they are still thermonuclear fusion devices using up their energy at prodigious rate, giving us brighter or dimmer glimpses of glory throughout our lifetime.

The rising of the morning and evening star, which is actually a misnomer because it is a planet, Venus, gives us pause to reflect on how finite we are and how infinite is space, we can be reminded of the timeless question, "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" And all this beauty is ours to enjoy!

Venus is almost out of the morning sky now, lost in the Sun's glare, to return to the evening sky in December. If you are a teacher who would like a kinesthetic activity to model this motion with your students, send me an email <carolutsinger@att.net> and I will share it with you.

Put on your favorite mosquito repellent and take a walk and enjoy the cooler evenings. Look southward to find the long curving sweep of Scorpius and the Teapot asterism just east of the Scorpion. About a fist-held-at-arm's-length farther east is a group of stars known as Capricornus.

Most of the stars are dim, but if you look down towards the horizon you may locate a large bright star called Fomalhaut. Above the Scorpion is the elongated pentagon shape of Ophiuchus, the Physician who is holding the two halves of a huge snake he has killed in his medicinal herbs garden.

Looking eastward later in the evening you can see the "Great Square of Pegasus. Covering about 10 degrees of arc (that fist-at-arm's-length), Pegasus is sometimes called the baseball diamond, at least by Americans. You may see the catcher and pitcher in their respective positions.

The Andromeda Galaxy, located off Pegasus at the lower left corner, is quite far from Earth, thirteen quintillion miles away, or 13 followed by 18 zeros, 2.2 million light years distant. If you are in a dark sky area, look for a fuzzy blur of light about midway along the upper V stretch of Andromeda, the constellation.

Until next week, KLU.

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Having a pet is a lot of responsibility, and we’ll help by giving you lots of tips and tricks! More >>

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Enjoy the crosswords challenge in our free daily puzzles, from the harder Sunday crossword to the quicker daily. More >>

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