You are no doubt aware of the Nobel Prizes, awarded annually in Stockholm. But, have you ever heard of the Ig Nobel Prizes, presented every October at Harvard? I must admit, that one of my vices is a subscription to a delightful journal called the Annals of Improbable Research, edited by Marc Abrahams. Think of Mad Magazine, edited by Nobel laureates. Each year they award prizes for research which probably should not have been carried out, or which simply sounds completely absurd to those not immersed in the disciplines.
This year's awards included: Ig Nobel for Medicine, awarded to Peter Barss of McGill University for a study of injuries caused by falling cocoanuts. The research, conducted in Papua New Guinea, concluded that the most serious injuries occur if you stand under the tree.
The prize in Physics went to David Schmidt, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, for his study of why shower curtains seem to attack the person in the shower. Buck Weimer, and inventor from Pueblo, Colorado won the Biology prize for creating "Under-Ease" - airtight underwear with a replaceable charcoal filter to remove the smell of flatulence.
Joel Slemrod (University of Michigan) and Wojciech Kopszuk (University of British Columbia) shared the Economics prize for their study of how estate taxes influence a person's time of death.
Not to be left out of the mirth, and pleased to be recognized after 25 years, Lawrence Sherman (Miami University of Ohio) won the Psychology prize. His contribution to knowledge was a 1975 study of glee in elementary school children.
The technology prize went to and Australian, John Keogh. He successfully sought and obtained a patent for the wheel (not new, but never patented!), because he wanted to highlight the loopholes in the Australian patent system. Successfully so.
Oh - this is supposed to be an astronomy column! Last, but not least, was the award of the Astrophysics prize, accepted by MIT physicist Walter Lewin on behalf of evangelists Jack and Rexella Van Impe. They claim to have discovered that black holes fit all the technical characteristics of hell. Lewin observed, on behalf of astronomers and astrophysicists everywhere that, "black holes are heaven."
Lunar phases for November: Full Moon on the 1st, at 12:41 am; Last Quarter on the 8th, at 7:21 pm; New Moon on the 15th, at 1:40 am; First Quarter on the 22nd, at 6:21 pm. A second Full Moon (sometimes called a "blue Moon") will occur on the 30th, at 3:49 pm. For observers in the wester US, the blue Moon was in October, arriving on Halloween. Note: all times are Eastern Standard.
Planets visible in the evening include Mars (though it's fading fast to the south). Saturn rises about 2 hours after sunset at the beginning of November, advancing to about 15 minutes after sunset by the end of the month. Jupiter rises about 2 hours after Saturn. They're not planets, but the Leonid meteors are part of the Solar System. Earth annually passes through this stream of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle in November, with the peak display expected about 5:00 am on the November 18th. If the weather cooperates, viewing should be ideal, since the Moon will not be a factor. As always, observe away from city lights. The apparent source of the meteor streams will be about 60 degrees off the horizon to the east, but meteors may appear anywhere in the sky.
An overhead view at midmonth, about three hours after sunset finds a part of the sky almost devoid of bright stars. You're looking out of the plane of our Galaxy, to find the Andromeda Galaxy just to the east of zenith - midmonth is the best time to try to find this relatively close neighbor in the "Local Group." At a mere 2 million light years, it's practically next door on the cosmic distance scale. Yet, it is the most distant object visible without a telescope. The bright triangle of Vega, Deneb, and Altair lies about half-way to the western horizon. This region of the sky lies in the plane of the Galaxy, hence the large number of bright stars. The Sun orbits the Galactic center, moving in the general direction of Cygnus. The Milky Way arcs from ENE to WSW, with a slight bulge towards the north. Ursa Major is practically on the northern horizon - you'll probably not be able to see it through trees, buildings, and haze. Saturn rises to the east, very close to the bright star Aldebaran, in Taurus. Saturn should look creamy in color, while Aldebaran, the "eye of the bull" should be reddish. Watch for Orion, rising well before midnight, to dominate the night skies through winter.
George F. Spagna, Jr.