Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's....Uranus, Jupiter and the Harvest Moon!

Sky watchers Celebrate! There are several super-duper celestial events happening tonight and tomorrow, including the Autumnal Equinox this evening at 11:09 EST.

From Geoff Gaherty at
"Check out the eastern sky just after sunset tomorrow (Sept. 22), and you'll catch a sky watching treat. The nearly full moon will be rising just above the bright planet Jupiter and a somewhat dimmer Uranus.

You'll need binoculars if you hope to spot Uranus — it appears as a tiny bluish speck, too dim for the naked eye. So the coming celestial lineup is an excellent time to find that planet with binoculars or a small telescope, using Jupiter as a helpful guidepost.

Sky watching marathon
Several astronomical events happen in rapid succession this week, offering a celestial show for observers graced with clear skies. The times indicated here are for eastern North America and may vary a little if you’re elsewhere in the world:

•Today (Sept. 21) at 8 p.m. EDT, Jupiter is in opposition. This means that Jupiter will be exactly opposite the sun in Earth’s sky. This also means that Jupiter will be visible the entire night. (Yesterday — Sept. 20 — Jupiter made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 50 years.)

•Five hours later, at 1 a.m. tomorrow (Sept. 22), Uranus will be in opposition, taking its turn opposite the sun in the sky.

•Later tomorrow at 3 p.m., Jupiter and Uranus will be in conjunction, less than 1 degree apart in the sky. They won’t be visible right then in North America because they will be below the horizon, but they will still be close together when they rise just after sunset. You will be able to see both planets at the same time in the field of a small telescope at low magnification.

•The show continues tomorrow night at 11:09 p.m. EDT (Sept. 23), when the sun crosses the celestial equator — a projection of Earth's equator on the sky — and enters the southern hemisphere. This is known as the equinox, meaning "equal nights." Daytime and nighttime are of equal length, about 12 hours, everywhere on Earth. (Of course, the sun won’t be visible at this time in North America, being on the other side of the planet.)

•Finally, at 5:17 a.m. EDT, Thursday, the full moon of September will occur, since the moon will be exactly opposite the sun in the sky. This is a special full moon: It is the full moon closest to the equinox, known as the harvest moon. "

So cue the Neil Young "Harvest Moon" CD and get ready to experience some serious celestial activity.

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