Septemberís looking up. You should be too.
by John Crossen
Ah September, the bugs are gone along with the sticky weather. The sky darkens a few minutes earlier with each passing night. So look up and behold a wealth of treasures to stir your sense of wonder.
Pardon my poetic waxing, but hot damn I like stargazing at this time of year. Hereís a hint of whatís in store for us as September unwinds.
The ringed planet Saturn will be sinking into the Sunset at dusk. Better see it now, as by October 1 it will be lost in the Sunís glare.
Also on the road to invisibility will be Mars. It puts in a guest appearance on September 29 as it lines up with the Thin Crescent Moon and the red star Antares. Perhaps thatís why Antares meant ďRival of MarsĒ to the ancient Romans.
Bright Venus is low in the eastern dawn sky while Mercury, Uranus and Neptune are out of view to naked-eye stargazers.
On September 9, lunatics will have a field day as the golden Harvest Moon rises. Sorry to burst your bubble, but any Moon near the horizon will appear yellow-gold in colour. Thatís because of the pollution in the atmosphere. Pollen, moisture, even the dust kicked up by harvesting equipment adds to the effect.
And why is the Harvest Full Moon supposedly so big? No one knows. But we do know that celestial objects close to the horizon appear to be larger than they are.
To prove it, place your thumb on the bottom of any Full Moon and your index finger on the top while holding your hand at armís length. Pull your hand back and youíll discover what appeared to be a giant Moon was actually about the size of an aspirin. Beautiful as the ďhorizon effectĒ is, itís all in your head.
The Summer Triangle is nearly straight overhead in September and the Milky Way flows through it. The triangleís corners are marked by the bright stars Deneb, Vega and Altair. These are the brightest stars in the constellations Cygnus the swan, Vega the lyre and Aquila the eagle respectively. Find the Summer Triangle and youíll have found three constellations too. Bonus points for you.
From a dark rural site, the Summer Milky Way slices through the Summer Triangle. Itís an arm of our spiral galaxy. Our solar system is located in a short segment called The Orion Spur. As we look up, we are looking at the Perseus Arm of our galaxy. While it appears as a misty cloud to the naked eye, through binoculars it is a burgeoning band of distant suns.
If youíre getting keen on doing a little backyard stargazing or you have a troop of scouts Ė girls or guys, hereís a book that should be on your shelf. The title is NightWatch and itís the best guide to basic astronomy I have read. The style is easygoing and the author, Terence Dickinson, has a very down-to-Earth way of explaining complex ideas. To sweeten the deal, you can score a copy for about $20 at Amazon. End of commercial!
John can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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