EDITOR’S NOTE: Ever wish for advance alert of an upcoming meteor shower/eclipse/etc. – and/or wonder “What’s that bright ‘star’ up there?” Here you go! It’s our monthly feature by West Seattle’s own Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen, famous for her solstice/equinox sunset watches among other things.
(Moon and Venus at dusk tonight; photo shared by Greg, over Weather Watch Park)
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
Welcome to fall! Fall is packed: Rocket launches to the Moon and Mars (both unmanned spacecraft); Comet ISON, which is being bid as the Comet of the Century—maybe, lots of very bright stars, and a sunset watch. Whew. Read on.
Hey! What’s That?
In the W just after sunset: Venus or Saturn
High in the W a while after sunset: Arcturus in Böotes
Low in the NE after midnight: Capella
Low in the NE, rising around 2am: Jupiter
Rising in the E around 2am: Betelgeuse and Rigel in Orion
Rising SE around 4 am: Sirius, brightest star in the night sky.
During the month of September, Venus and Saturn effectively trade places. At the beginning of the month, Venus is closer to due West, with Saturn a little bit South of that. By the end of the month, Saturn is closer to due West, and Venus is just a little further South.
If you think you’ve seen a UFO, well, I’m a skeptic. Several of the “Hey What’s That” objects are objects about which I get regular UFO sighting calls. The latest call turned out to be for Rigel – a bright and beautiful first-magnitude star. It was low on the horizon, which always makes the brightest stars twinkle so much that they seem to be blinking different colors. It’s the same exact atmospheric effect that makes you see the hot air rising and wavering over a hot grill or sidewalk.
Other common “UFOs” are the sky lanterns we’ve been seeing more of in West Seattle, and the International Space Station (ISS) which is very bright. ISS is in fact so bright that it is now the third brightest object in the sky. Number one is the Sun, and two is the Moon. If you think you’ve seen ISS, it glides slowly and silently across the sky in a straight line, taking maybe one or two minutes to pass out of view. With your eyes it is a single bright spot with no more details visible than a star.
The Comet of the Century might be coming. Maybe. Or maybe it will be a dud. You never can tell ahead of time with comets. The peak will be in mid-November, however bright it gets.
For a detailed chart of when to watch for ISON, Jason made one for Seattle and I color-coded it. For where to look, I’d use Sky and Telescope’s updates on Comet ISON page and their maps.
Throughout September, Comet ISON continues to be an early-morning object, and dim enough to be suitable only for people with telescopes.
September 23-25 – ISON will be within 2 degrees of Mars and 1 degree from the asteroid Eros. This will be a nice picture if done with a good camera and a stable telescope.
The Andromeda Galaxy is the absolute farthest thing from the Earth that you can see without a telescope or binoculars. If you need glasses, you’ll have to wear those to see it, but otherwise it is visible with the unaided eye, even from Seattle. It will be up all night throughout September. Use a starmap, Stellarium, or a smartphone application to help you locate the constellation of Andromeda. The galaxy is just off the edge of the constellation, and might be designated as “M31” depending on what kind of map you’re using.
It takes a little trying to see it, and it will look like a slight smudge on the sky, or maybe you’ll think there’s a bit of cloud in the way. It is so dim, and I’m always amazed by how far the light from the stars in that galaxy had to travel to reach me. The light has been travelling towards your eye for 2,500,000 years. Several actual photons from a star two-and-a-half million light years away hit your eye when you look at the Andromeda Galaxy. That is … So. Far. Away.
September 22, 6:30-7:30 pm – Fall Equinox Sunset Watch at Solstice Park in West Seattle. Special activities for toddlers and preschoolers as well as a Q&A about observing Comet ISON this fall.
Got events to add? Please comment below.
September 12, October 11, First Quarter: the first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation.
September 19, October 18, Full Moon: The full moon rises at sunset, and sets at sunrise.
September 26, Last Quarter: the week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky.
October 5, New Moon: the day of the new moon you won’t see the Moon at all, but in a few days before or after you might see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon in the mid-day sky.
Stellarium: Free planetarium software for your home computer. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world – any time and date in history, or the future.
Clear Sky Chart: The astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloud cover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.
USNO: Dates and times of astronomical happenings.
International Dark Sky Association
Who is Alice?
Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at alicesastroinfo.com.
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