| Observatory |
Some observing hilights
to look forward to...
The following tips on current and upcoming astronomical events
have been gathered from magazines and other sources by Dave Gamble
with the objective of giving OC RASC members a heads-up on
special personal astro-experiences to look forward to.
Sat. Sept. 1 – September opens with at attractive sweep of stars and planets in the evening sky. Venus will cozy up to within two moon widths of Spica in Virgo low in the west southwest. Jupiter picks up the train a bit further east, followed by Saturn and finally Mars which is still fairly bright after its closest approach in July.
Sat. Sept. 1 - For meteor shower fans who enjoyed August's Perseid meteor shower, there will be a more modest treat in the pre-dawn hours this morning. 'Aurigid meteors' are definitely in the minor league, but this morning they will peak in the northeast sky before dawn. Unfortunately there will be a waning gibbous Moon to interfere and wash out faint members later in the evening. Aurigids typically produce only a handful of meteors per hour, but there have been outburst years.
Sun. Sept. 2 - This is Last Quarter Moon night, a welcome signal that the next dark sky period is almost here for deep sky observing, sketching and imaging.
Mon. Sept. 3 - With the earlier arrival of dusk, those wishing some serious fun observing might consider the 'Milky Way Marathon'. In the same way that the maximum number of Messier objects can be seen in the course of a night in March, it is possible to see virtually all of the Milky Way that is visible from Canada during September. The idea is to begin in the evening with Sagittarius on the southern horizon, and work your way up the Milky Way through Scutum, Cygnus and overhead. As the night wears on the perspective changes as the Perseus arm begins to swing overhead and more and more of the 'other side' of the Milky Way rises, culminating with the appearance of Taurus and Orion and the outside view of our galaxy during the pre-dawn hours. Our Okanagan Observatory with its excellent Milky Way dark sky view would be a perfect place for this all night campaign.
Wed. Sept. 5 - The Zodiacal Light is something that is most often mentioned in the spring months when the Sun illuminates dust particles in the equatorial plane of the solar system, producing a faint triangle of light extending into the western evening sky. The same applies to fall, however in this case the glow is seen in the pre-dawn eastern sky. The coming weeks will offer an opportunity for early risers to view and identify the fall Zodiacal light extending upward through the stars of Leo, Cancer and Gemini.
Thurs. Sept. 6 – For early risers, the pre-dawn sky this morning will offer a chance to spy fleet Mercury which will be within a finger width of Regulus in Leo. This should provide an attractive view in binoculars just above the eastern horizon. It wasn’t that long ago that the Moon was visiting Leo low in the evening sky. That constellation has now moved to the other side of the Sun to begin its gradual trek across the sky which will culminate with its annual night-dominating appearance next spring.
Fri. Sept. 7 – Fall is a great time to catch ‘the Demon Star’ in one of its blinks. Algol will reach its minimum brightness in a two hour time period centered at 7.29pm tonight. Compare its brightness with neighbouring stars in Perseus in the north-northeast sky near the minimum and then check it out again around 11pm to see the difference in brightness.
Sat. Sept. 8 – The almost New Moon will not interfere with the dark sky opportunity to spy another minor meteor shower. These ‘shooting stars’ are called the Epsilon Perseids, and they offer the prospect of seeing a handful of ‘shooting stars’ per hour, coincidentally emanating from the vicinity of the ‘devil star’ Algol which climbs up the eastern sky toward the zenith in the hours before daybreak.
Sun. Sept. 9 – This is New Moon night with our companion fully out of the way to allow deep sky activities including capturing faint fuzzies both in the eyepiece as well as with a camera.
Sun. Sept. 10 – If it has lived up to expectations, overnight tonight we should have one of the best current views of Comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner rising in the eastern sky in the wee hours between Auriga and Taurus. Fortuitously, the comet will be near perihelion, its closest to the Sun as well as being its closest to Earth at about 58 million kilometres. Earlier estimates held out hopes the comet might reach naked eye brightness, however even if it falls short of this it should be a dramatic sight in a telescope and easily accessible with binoculars.
Wed. Sept. 12 – The gradually expanding crescent Moon will form an attractive pairing with bright Venus in the western sky this evening. They will be about the width of your fist apart.
Thurs. Sept. 13 – For those who enjoy seeing patterns in the sky, this evening three very unlike objects will form an equilateral triangle. The crescent Moon, Jupiter and the star Zubenelgenubi will form up less than three finger widths apart.
Sat. Sept. 15 – After its closest approach last Sunday, Comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner will be seen close to the Messier 35 star cluster in Gemini in the early morning hours this morning.
Sat. Sept. 15 – Another attractive grouping can be seen in the evening sky tonight. The almost first quarter Moon will be a fingerpost to the nearby star Alpha Scorpii or Antares, together with the planetary pair of Jupiter and Saturn.
Sun. Sept. 16 – The Moon will do-si-do with Saturn over the next two evenings, appearing to its west tonight, moving to only half the separation to its east the following night.
Sun. Sept. 16 – Mars is still enlivening the night sky. It is interesting to note that our outer neighbour is now at perihelion, the closest point in its orbit to the Sun. If it had reached opposition tonight, it would have been even bigger and brighter than it was on July 27.
Sun. Sept. 16 – This is First Quarter Moon night with our neatly divided neighbour adding to the atmosphere and beauty of a fall evening. Luna is now near perihelion, its closest approach to Earth, which may suggest that it looks a bit larger than usual.
Wed. Sept. 19 – Keeping track of the continually moving planets, tonight the gibbous Moon will check out Mars, approaching to just over two finger widths away.
Fri. Sept. 21 – For most of this year we have been treated to a grand performance by Venus in its evening star role. Tonight it will reach its greatest brightness as it cruises along its inner orbital track around the Sun on the way to overtaking us.
Sat. Sept. 22 - Where did the time go? It seemed only weeks ago we observed the Summer Solstice with the Sun setting at its northernmost point on the horizon. Now, the second half of the current year is half over! The official moment of autumnal equinox will be at 6.54pm.
Sun. Sept. 23 – The almost full Moon will provide a guide to the outer ice giant Neptune tonight. Telescopes will show the bluish disk less than two finger widths above our neighbour.
Mon. Sept. 24 - Tonight celebrates the bounty of the fall season with the annual Harvest Moon. In earlier times the Moon performed a useful and important function by adding light to late evening harvest operations, not just for one night, but several in a row. This is because in fall our satellite is moving higher along the ecliptic which compensates somewhat for its eastwardly movement each night.
Thurs. Sept. 27 – There will be another opportunity to see Algol do its slow blink tonight. This time ‘the Devil Star’, as it was known before it was revealed as an eclipsing binary star, will reach its minimum brightness in a two hour time period centered at 9.09pm tonight. By comparing its brightness with neighbouring stars in Perseus several hours before or after its minimum, its much dimmer appearance at minimum will be revealed.
Thurs. Sept. 27 – Tonight the Moon will pass about the width of three fingers held at arms length below Uranus. Even binoculars will reveal the greenish ice giant planet.
Sun. Sept. 30 – For those still awake after midnight, the waning gibbous Moon will be less than two moon widths away from bright Aldebaran in Taurus. It may help you nod off to sleep to contemplate this orange giant star for a moment. At home it likely hosts a planet much larger than Jupiter. Since it is slightly variable, it is usually the fourteenth brightest star in the night sky. Still awake? The Pioneer 10 spacecraft is heading in its general direction and will make its closest approach in about two million years.