Gateway to the Stars March 2016

Nick Jarvis

In this month’s Gateway to the Stars, we look back at the historic gravitational wave detection announced in February, we look forward to the March equinox, and we’ll look out at a number of lovely nighttime sights that can be enjoyed with and without telescopes.

Of course, long before the telescope, people were using the stars to track the passage of the year. This month, we’re approaching an important point in the astronomical calendar: the equinox. The moment of equinox will be at about 10:30 pm MDT on Saturday, March 19th, and for us in the northern hemisphere this will mark the half-way point between the shortest days of winter and the longest days of summer. In our digital sky we can explore our yearly astronomical cycle, and some of the most interesting consequences of the equinox: that everywhere on Earth will get an equal amount of day and night, and that the sunrise and sunset will happen directly in the east and west. This last point has particularly interesting consequences for Salt Lake City, since this means that at dawn and dusk the sun will shine directly down our compass-aligned streets. Get your sun visors ready!

Earth's seasons as seen from the north. Far right: December solstice. Top right: March equinox.

Earth’s seasons as seen from the north. Far right: December solstice. Top right: March equinox.

Also in this month’s show, we’ll mark the historic first detection of a gravitational wave! This discovery is probably the biggest astronomy news of 2016 (unless we find space aliens later this year or prove that Planet 9 is really out there!) and it will have consequences that will affect the way we study the sky for many generations into the future. Since this is the first installment of Gateway to the Stars since the announcement earlier in February, this will be a good moment to talk about the discovery, its foundations, and its implications to astronomy and physics. As a supplement to our show, I’d also recommend this excellent column on the topic by the famous “Bad Astronomer” Phil Plait.

Simulation of merging black holes radiating gravitational waves.

Simulation of merging black holes radiating gravitational waves.

We welcome you to join us for our discussion of all things astronomical and as always our live shows like Gateway to the Stars are a great place to bring your questions about astronomy, telescopes, and night sky observing. See you there!

Gateway to the Stars? is hosted by Nick Jarvis on Saturday, March 5th at 6:45pm in the Hansen Dome Theater. Tickets are $2, or free for planetarium members. Buy tickets here, or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk.?

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