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Northern Rockies Skies for November: The Andromeda Constellation

October 28, 2013

A monthly look at the night skies of the northern Rocky Mountains, written by astronomers Ron Canterna, University of Wyoming; Jay Norris, Challis, Idaho Observatory; and Daryl Macomb, Boise State University.

In Greek mythology, Princess Andromeda was chained to a rock, trying to avoid the sea monster, Cetus. Perseus, who later became her husband, subsequently rescued her. Andromeda is placed in the night sky near her father, King Cepheus; her mother, Queen Cassiopeia; and her husband, Perseus.

Approximately three hours after sunset, you can view Andromeda near the zenith, just north of Pegasus (the great square) and south of the line of constellations Cepheus, Cassiopeia (the big “W’ in the sky) and Perseus. To find its brightest star, Alpheratz, locate the great square of Pegasus -- Alpheratz is the bright star in the northeast of the square.

About midway between Alpheratz and Cassiopeia lies the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to ours and similar in structure to the Milky Way. You need a very dark site to see this nebulous object with the eye. With binoculars or a small telescope, you will see a bright central region. The entire extent of the Andromeda galaxy would occupy a space in the sky about six times larger than the full moon if you could see its faint regions. See Galaxy/ for several images.

Planet Alert: Right after sunset, Venus is on the southwest horizon; Jupiter rises at 9 p.m. in Gemini; with Mars rising at 3 a.m. in Leo.

Famous Astronomers: Isaac Newton I. The Man

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Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), born in the same year that Galileo died, walked on the world stage, creating and living in the midst of the Age of Enlightenment. He was contemporary with John Locke and François-Marie Arouet (pen name: Voltaire), who with Émilie du Châtelet, brought Newton's work to light in France.

Newton was born prematurely -- his mother said the baby could fit in a quart jar -- in Lincolnshire, England. At one point, his mother removed Newton from school. Ostensibly, she wished to turn him into a farmer, but he hated farming. Later reinstated to school, he showed only ordinary capabilities. Modern analysis of Newton's personality holds it fairly likely that Newton had Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism.

Upon admission to Trinity College, in a work-study program, Newton surveyed mainstream philosophy and the latest developments in astronomy, including the works of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. The first telescopes and microscopes were invented in the previous two generations. After his student days at Trinity, Newton developed, in private, his first formulations on gravitation, the mathematics of calculus and optics. The work was said to advance all branches of mathematics practiced to that time (1669).

Newton worked on "The Calculus" in a time before mathematicians routinely and freely published their ideas; instead, they often only hinted at new developments, preferring to keep secret their innovations while making further solitary progress. German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, to whom co-credit for invention of the calculus is routinely given, is now known to have benefited from, and perhaps to have been inspired by, copies of Newton's earliest published manuscript that applied the rudimentary principles of the calculus.

This famous priority dispute between Newton and Leibniz was part of a larger cultural difference: The use of sentences by Newton to describe math, versus the more productive, compact equations used by Leibniz. Some historians perceive that British insistence on following Newton's archaic formulations held back progress in British physical science for more than a century, while Continental science made huge strides following the algebraic path of Leibniz and colleagues -- until the next great mathematician from the British Isles surfaced, Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865).

A fellow of Trinity College and second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, Newton eventually was elected president of the Royal Society, and served as Master of the Royal Mint. He was the second scientist to be knighted (the first was Sir Francis Bacon). He was granted the honor of burial in Westminster Abbey, usually reserved for state funerals. The metric unit of force, the Newton (one kilogram-meter per second squared), is named for him.

Newton said of his achievements, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

To view this month’s sky chart, click here.

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