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New year, old habits, night skies

Jan 15, 2014 - By Carl Manning

Make the most of the cold, and look up once in a while

It's a new year. We have all taken notice of the change of 2013 to 2014. I don't write as many checks as I used to, but I always make a few mistakes writing down 2013 instead of 2014. Eventually that passes, or you hope it will.

We make resolutions and look forward to the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.

Did you see that article from an English newspaper that the first Monday after going back to work in the new year is the worst day of the year? It has been pegged as "Blue Monday' and it used to be considered the first Monday of the last full week in January. It had been calculated by a Brit by the name of Cliff Arnall. The article I read deemed him a pseudoscientist. He had made a calculation based on weather, plus debt, time since Christmas, the average time to fail at our new year's resolutions, low motivation, and also the "need to take action," and then came up with the last full week Monday.

However, also in Britain, researchers three years ago mined social media data to come up with the new Blue Monday, setting it earlier in January. The article also said,"British people like to complain, and it rains all the time there."

I don't know, but many things do run in cycles. Maybe there is a way to judge data to deem a certain day "the worst," but I doubt it.

Anyway, have a great New Year. Make the best of the snow and cold, and take a look at the stars now and then. On that topic, read on:

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:

"Named for its stars outlining a pointed helmet of a charioteer, the winter constellation Auriga is best seen directly overhead around 10 p.m. during January. Auriga also denotes the location of the anti-center of the Milky Way galaxy. Its brightest star, Capella, is the sixth-brightest star in the sky and third-brightest in the northern hemisphere. Capella, a multiple star system about 40 light years away from the sun, is part of the Hyades moving cluster of stars, the nearest moderately-aged cluster of stars.

"The second-brightest star in Auriga, Menkalinan, is a triple-star system located about 80 light years from the sun. Menkalinan belongs to the Ursa Major moving star group that is made up from many stars in the Big Dipper. Due to its position in the galaxy, there are only a few open clusters of stars and very few nebulae in Auriga.

"January 2014 Interest: Famous Astronomers: Isaac Newton III -- Optics

"Newton's work spanned the flowering of experimental science in the Age of Reason and the gradual disappearance of pseudosciences such as alchemy, which included the search for methods that might transmute baser metals into gold. Yet, it was his interest in the quests of alchemy that, to some degree, motivated Newton's revealing experiments in optics.

"Newton adhered to 'corpuscularianism,' part of the dogma of alchemy, that viewed light as particles subtler than particles of matter, and as divisible into finer pieces (unlike the theory of atoms, which were conceived as indivisible). This viewpoint led Newton to experiments with prisms, whereby he showed definitively that prism-refracted light spread out into the colors of the spectrum -- red to violet -- refuting Aristotle's long-standing theory that light was white or colorless and that colored light was caused by interaction with the darkness of matter.

"Instead, Newton's experiments showed that the colored light reflected from different materials was the result of differential absorption by matter of the pure spectral hues. For example, the perceived color sensation of purple arises from the combination of red and violet hues reflected from material substances.

"Newton published this correct theory of color in his book "Opticks" (1704), along with experimental results and several other conjectures, including the idea of diffraction of light that arises from closely spaced optical elements. However, his work did not advance the additional modern understanding that light has a wave-like nature as well. Two more centuries elapsed before elucidation of the full theory of light by quantum mechanics -- the understanding that light behaves both like waves and particles (Newton's corpuscles, which we now call photons).

"Alchemy's failed searches for a method to transmute one element into another also awaited the era of modern physics, when astrophysicists' cousins -- the first particle physicists -- discovered radioactivity and the nuclear processes of fission and fusion, the latter being the process that powers stars.

"The wavelength-dependent refraction that light suffers when passing through glass lenses ("chromatic aberration") prompted Newton to invent a telescope using a mirror as the primary objective element -- the Newtonian reflector -- the fundamental construct behind today's large, modern reflecting telescopes.

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