Kick back and enjoy the galactic ride

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Wednesday, July 2, 2014 5:02pm
  • Life

We have a building full moon this week, and on the weekend we’ll have our first full moon of the summer over Everett. You can’t help but notice it’s a low rider as it rises in the southeast, reaches its peak in the lower portions of the southern sky by around 1 a.m., and sets in southwest less than 10 hours after it rises. It’s taking the same low path in the sky that the sun takes in early winter.

The excess of moonlight will do much damage to real stargazing this week as all but the brighter stars get at least partially moon-washed. So what I suggest for some night this week is to lie back on the ground and gaze upon the stars. No snow will get up your back this time of year.

Despite these obstacles, it’s still a great experience to lie back under the stars, especially on a hilltop or somewhere in the middle of a flat plain. Of course, if you can get away from at least some of the heavy city lights it makes the celestial show even more fabulous and allows you to do some pondering in the moonlight. You can become one with the universe. OK, that’s stretching it a bit and a little cheesy for sure. Even so, lying back under the stars can sure give a fresh perspective on things. Problems at work and school go away for a while, absorbed in the starry skies.

With a little more relaxation you can imagine yourself on a spaceship traveling through the heavens. Well, as a matter of fact, you are. Everybody and everything on this planet are aboard spaceship Earth, hurtling at tremendous speeds in all directions.

First off, spaceship Earth is always shifting around internally. In fact all of the continents of the Earth are drifting, some up to eight inches a year. North America is drifting westward from Europe at the pace of 2 to 3 inches a year. And of course we have occasional earthquakes and volcanoes.

That’s nothing compared to the movement the entire spaceship Earth experiences. Even though you can’t feel it, the Earth is spinning on its axis at the speed of more than a thousand miles an hour. Evidence to Earth’s rotation is how the stars relentlessly move together toward the west and also spin around Polaris, a star shining above the Earth’s North Pole. Oh, and by the way, as long as I brought up the North Pole, keep in mind that Earth’s axis between the north and south is also wobbling in a 26,000-year cycle.

We’ve only just begun though. Along with our 1,000-mph-plus rotation speed of spaceship Earth, we’re cranking along in orbit around the sun at more than 64,000 miles an hour, or about 19 miles a second. But you also have to get your brain around the reality that the entire solar system and our private star we call our sun are all zipping along in a huge orbit around the center of our own spiral shaped Milky Way at more than 600,000 miles per hour.

Now if that’s not enough motion for you as you lay on your back taking in the stars, astronomers now believe that our entire Milky Way galaxy is cruising though this part of the universe at more 1.3 million miles an hour. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m going nowhere”? Well nothing could be farther from the truth!

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist.

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