Summer arrives on Sunday afternoon at 12:38 p.m. Summer begins for us in that moment, though the weather and the signs have been around for a while. The precise time is more a concept than anything we can observe, measure in time, or experience. It is a moment when the overhead sun reaches farthest north above the equator, our time. If one could follow the sun at the zenith on this day and draw a line on the ground, the line would be what appears on maps as the Tropic of Cancer, a ring around the earth, at latitude 23.5 degrees.
The red planet Mars is only a few weeks away from opposition and its brightness can not be missed. The red planet glows above the southeastern horizon two hours after sunset. Mars hasn’t been this bright in almost two years. Once Mars rises higher in the southeast, later in the evening, there is no mistaking its reddish color and its brightness amid the field of fainter stars. Mars nearly doubles in size and brightness this month.
Tonight’s first quarter moon appears in the zodiacal constellation Taurus. The moon appears high near our zenith after sunset. The moon is near the star clusters Pleaides and the Hyades. The Hyades is an assembly of many stars that looks like a large V. The brightest star in the constellation and imbedded in the Hyades is the orange star Aldebaran.
The sky is falling, steadily. Total snowfall since the first of January is 33.6 inches; which means we are already ahead of the annual average of 24.7 inches, according to the numbers compiled by the National Weather Service station in Edgartown.
Last year, 2013, the total snowfall was 36 inches.
Late Wednesday night the planet Mars and the gibbous moon appear together as a close pair. The two rise in the southeast a few hours after sunset. This is an easy opportunity to see Mars. Use the moon as your guide.
The planet has brightened considerably in the last year and is two months away from opposition. There is no mistaking its reddish sapphire color when compared to the brilliant white moon.
A third bright celestial object resides nearby amid the field of faint stars. It is the bright blueish-white star Spica, the principal star in Virgo.
Tonight it may be possible to see the thin crescent moon appear near the distant planet Mercury. The two are close to the horizon right after sunset.
The moon is only one day past the New Moon phase and so it resides very close to the horizon after sunset. If you are standing on the beach at Menemsha and looking west you’ll see the moon amid the glow of twilight for a short time before it sets.
Mercury is that faint looking “star” to the south, or left of the moon.
A brilliant fireball meteor, as bright as the moon, shot across the sky early Sunday evening. It was seen as far north as Maine and a far south as the New Jersey. David Stanwood, who lives off Lambert’s Cove Road, in West Tisbury, saw it from the backyard of his house.
“At first I thought it was the lights of a jet nosing into the sound, then realized it was at least two large brilliant white fragments of a meteor streaking to the North,” Mr. Stanwood said. He said he watched it for about two seconds.
Winter arrives tomorrow at 11 minutes after noon. Daylight is at a premium now. This weekend and the days ahead are the shortest of the year. But the shortest day is really more a concept than a reality. Our position on the Earth, our latitude and the atmosphere on the horizon all play a part. Daylight is nine hours and five minutes, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
As we look ahead sunrises begin occuring later in the morning, thus adding to the amount of daylight. Sunrise tomorrow is at 7:05 a.m. By January 10 the sunrise will occur at 7:07 a.m.