’CCO meteorologist illuminates the heavens

FAIRMONT – Mike Lynch gets really excited about stars, and right now some of his favorites are big and bright in the southwestern sky.

“Orion and his gang,” Lynch said. “I love, love, love this part of the sky. Orion actually looks like what it’s supposed to be.”

Orion the Hunter is one of the constellations that Lynch introduced to a group of people Friday evening at the Fairmont airport.

Lynch can be forgiven for being so enthusiastic about the sky: not only has he been stargazing since he was a kid, he is a meteorologist who has worked for WCCO Radio for 33 years. He combines his passion for twinkling lights with a radio announcer’s comedic timing to educate in a fun way.

Lynch began with some background information, which he called “Basic Astronomy 101.”

“What are stars?” he asked the audience.

They are balls of gas, mainly hydrogen, which happens to be an ingredient in water.

“Hydrogen is the basic building block of the universe,” Lynch noted.

A good example of a star is the sun, which is 93 million miles away from the Earth, Lynch said. The sun is 300,000 times the mass of the earth and has a much stronger gravitational pull. The sun’s outer lay has a temperature of 10,000 degrees, but it is much hotter inside.

“Every single second, the sun produces the energy of a trillion, trillion light bulbs,” Lynch said.

Gravity makes the sun shine by squeezing the ball of gas inward from every direction.

“The sun’s core gravitational pressure exceeds 500 billion pounds per square inch,” Lynch said, bringing the inner core temperature up to 27 million degrees.

Lynch explained that stars in the night sky may look close but they are actually light years away. What is a light year? Light travels at 186,300 miles per second. To illustrate, Lynch said that speed is the equivalent of traveling from Los Angeles to New York City 33 times in one second.

The constellations – groups of stars forming a “picture” – and their names come from Greek and Roman mythology. Lynch called these “the misadventures of the gods and goddesses,” starting with Zeus and Hera who had “a marriage so bad not even Dr. Phil could fix it.”

Lynch handed out paper constellation maps and showed the audience what constellations look like with a slideshow before taking his guests outside to view the real thing.

He instructed them to picture the sky like a big upside-down bowl, with the constellations spread around the inside.

With the sky clearing as the cold night wore on, Lynch escorted the group outside and used a green laser pointer that reached up to the stars so he could pinpoint them.

He noted that the Big Dipper is part of one of the largest constellations.

“The Big Dipper is the butt and tail of Ursa Major, the Big Bear,” Lynch said.

He detailed the stars that make up the head and the paws, and pointed out that the two stars on the outside edge of the Big Dipper’s “pot” point to Polaris, the North Star, which is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, or Little Bear.

Lynch explained that here in Minnesota, we are halfway between the North Pole, to which Polaris is anchored, and the equator.

If you were at the North Pole, Lynch said, all the constellations would rotate around Polaris in an even circle. The constellations continue to rotate around Polaris, but because of our location, some of them dip below the horizon at certain times of the year.

Two that do not are Cassiopeia and Cepheus, the royal couple of the heavens, which are always visible.

Lynch elaborated on Orion and his two dogs, Canis Major (the Big Dog) and Canis Minor (the Little Dog). Together, the three form “The Winter Triangle.” Canis Major is famous for having Sirius, the Dog Star, which is the brightest star in the entire night sky.

Taurus the Bull currently has the planet Jupiter shining in its horn.

One constellation of spring is Leo the Lion, which looks like a backward question mark, and can be seen in the southeastern sky.

Lynch brought telescopes and the group was able to view Jupiter and three of her moons, as well as the Pleiades cluster, also known as the Seven Little Sisters.

For more information, visit lynchandthestars.com online