Friday, February 24, 2012

Swimming in the Milky Way

I apologize for yesterday's post that somehow got a day out of sync with the sky. Thanks to Scavone for sorting me out. The Moon last evening was two days old, not one.

But what an evening still! Mercury winking in the fading light. The whisper-thin crescent Moon. Venus. Jupiter. Suspended vertically in a cloudless sky. Even the grandchildren joined us on the front steps to admire the view.

There was a time early in our love affair with this island when Venus and Jupiter would have been accompanied this time of the year by the zodiacal light, a diffuse glow reaching up from the western horizon, light reflected off of meteoric dust in the plane of the solar system. That was when the island was still inky dark and we thought we were truly living in the cosmos.

Then came the new airport over the hill. Street lights along the Queen's Highway. And the Sandals resort. The zodiacal light vanished. The Milky Way faded. Slowly, inexorably, we become prisoners of the Earth.

Oh, I'm exaggerating, I suppose. Skywatching is still vastly more rewarding here than at our home near Boston. But the island has winked on in those photographs of the nighttime Earth from space, a tiny dot of artificial light.

Scavone mentioned using Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar as his source. You will know that I have often recommended Ottewell's Calendar here. It is hard for me to imagine living without it. Two full-page spreads are devoted to young and old Moons.