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Solar eclipse marked beginning of Iroquois Confederacy

Iroquois, one of the historical figures of the Maisonneuve Monument, by Louis-Philippe Hébert, 1895, Place d’Armes, Montreal. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

My wife Alice regularly brings home the Indian Time news journal, a publication by the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation Territory in northern New York. It was with great interest that I came across an article titled “Dating the Iroquois Confederacy” by Bruce E. Johansen. What really attracted my attention was that a total, or near total, solar eclipse marked the beginning of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, the oldest living democracy in North America and possibly on Earth.

Lifeform of the week: Corpse flower

Image Credit: Graham Racher

Image Credit: Graham Racher

To kick off the Halloween season of candy consumption, costume concocting and ghost story telling, I present to you a most fiendish lifeform, one that lurks in the dark and spooky rainforests of southeast Asia leeching life from innocent tree roots: a strange entity known as the corpse flower.

New seafloor map reveals thousands of seamounts

Satellite model of the North Atlantic Ocean. Image Credit: David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Satellite model of the North Atlantic Ocean. Image Credit: David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Vast unexplored areas of the ocean have now been mapped with new satellite data and scientists have discovered thousands of previously uncharted seamounts in addition to an extinct spreading ridge in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hundreds of millions of South Asians at risk from glacier melt

A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are at risk from glacial melt. Photo credit: Susan Novak/Flickr

A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are at risk from glacial melt. Photo credit: Susan Novak/Flickr

Few regions on Earth depend as heavily on glaciers for food, energy and water as South Asia’s Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem. But now hundreds of millions in South Asia are at risk from glacier melt. A new research paper in the journal Environmental Science and Policy highlights some of the challenges downstream communities face when glacier water from upstream communities becomes scarce.

First-ever image of 5th order rainbow!

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Enhanced image of 5th order rainbow. Photo by Harald Edens.

The familiar primary and secondary rainbows have been known since there were eyes. The long sought 3rd and 4th order rainbows were finally imaged in 2011. Now we have the 5th order!

Comet Siding Spring’s near-miss of Mars was October 19

Comet Siding Spring closest to Mars on October 19, 2914.  Image via Virtual Telescope Project.  Read more about this image.

Comet Siding Spring closest to Mars on October 19, 2914. Image via Virtual Telescope Project.

The close pass of Comet Siding Spring to Mars was exciting! Closest approach was October 19. Watch for more photos from the event – both from earthly observers and from the spacecraft orbiting Mars and on Mars’ surface – here at EarthSky.org.

Why do trees shed their leaves in the fall?

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Autumn leaves. Image Credit: Tracy Ducasse.

Something to think about while raking …

Double Cluster in Perseus: Two star clusters

The Double Cluster is also known as h and Chi Persei. It resides in the northern part of the constellation Perseus, quite close to the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen. If you have a dark sky and find Cassiopeia – which is easy, because the constellation has a distinctive M or W shape – be sure to look for Perseus, too. Then just scan with your binoculars between them. The Double Cluster – a breathtaking pair of clusters, each containing supergiant suns – will be there. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Found Cassiopeia? Now look for Perseus

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If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, try looking northeast this evening for two prominent constellations, Cassiopeia and Perseus. The easier to see will be Cassiopeia, which has a distinctive M or W shape. Cassiopeia represents a queen in ancient mythology, and is one of the most famous constellations in the sky. You’ll see it in the northeast this evening, and higher up in the evening sky in late fall and winter.

Milky Way’s dark matter half what we thought?

Artist's concept of the halo of dark matter surrounding our Milky Way galaxy.

Artist’s concept of the halo of dark matter surrounding our Milky Way galaxy. Image via ProfMattStrassler.com

Australian astronomers have now chimed in on the subject of why our Milky Way galaxy has fewer orbiting satellites than a prevailing theory of the universe – cold dark matter theory – says it should. They say the reason is that, according to their measurements, there’s only half the amount of dark matter in the Milky Way as previously thought, only 800 billion times the mass of our sun. Their ideas are the latest in a series of widely varying researches, all attempting to explain the “missing” Milky Way satellites.