This article was contributed by community member David Baumgartner. This is the second in a series of articles on local astronomy.
September is known by many astronomers to be one of the steadiest and transparent viewing skies of the year. It is not uncommon to have half or more of our nights clear around the city of Hollister in the month of September. But if you are able to venture down south around the Panoche or Pinnacles area, you will find that almost all the nights are clear, mainly because of the lack of morning or evening fog. Make sure if you do visit South County that you get permission from the land owner to setup on their property. A small group of us amateur astronomers setup our equipment in South County, with permission of course. We are 3,000 feet up with little light pollution. When the heavens show off their best the sky is full of stars. So much so that it is quite difficult to pick out the constellations. Now those are good skies!
Constellations of the Month:
Last month I briefly spoke of the Summer Triangle. High in the summer sky are three very bright stars that form what is known as the Summer Triangle: Altair, Vega and Deneb. Each one of these stars is located in a different constellation, which will be our Constellations of the Month. When you see the Triangle coming up in the east at night, you know summer is just around the corner. Even though there are no corners up there.
Altair is Arabic for “the flying one” which is located in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. Altair is the eagle’s eye, flanked by two other stars which are his beak and crest. The eagle is flying north along the Milky Way, but moving over as to avoid collision with Cygnus, the Swan.
Vega, which is the brightest of the three stars in the triangle, is in the constellation Lyra, the harp. You may remember in the movie “Contact,” Vega was the star mentioned that Earth was contacted from. Great movie, one of my favorites. Lyra is much smaller than the other two constellations and just outside the Milky Way. Besides Vega you will see four smaller stars that form a rectangle, and one other star just west of Vega called Epsilon Lyrae. It is also known as the “Double Double Star.” If you look at it in a telescope, it turns out to be two stars revolving around each other. In a larger telescope, each of those turns out to be two stars, all revolving around each other. Therefore the double double.
Deneb means “tail” in Arabic. It is the tail in the constellation Cygnus (which is “swan” in Latin). The swan has a long neck, stretched out as he flies down the middle of the Milky Way. The two stars forming the wings give a cross shape, and that is why it is sometimes called the “Northern Cross.” The star at the swan’s head is called Albireo. This is one of the most beautiful double stars in the sky, because the colors of the stars contrast so well, one blue, the other yellow. Cygnus is another one of my favorite constellations, not just because it has some of the most gorgeous objects to view, but I guess it is because in the past I raised swans, real ones, right next to my own observatory named “Cygnus” all in my backyard. We lived just south of Hollister on 16 acres of walnuts. In time it got to be too much and we downsized and moved into town, light pollution and no room for swans. Not my cup of tea. But sometimes you do what you have to do.
Just before we left our beloved 16 acres, I had a party of 25 come over and enjoy the night skies with me in my backyard. The lucky bidder on my donated prize for the United Way live auction invited what was I’m sure his best 25 friends. They all showed up together, and I noticed right away that everyone was having a great time. I mean, a really great time. And I was thinking then: boy I sure know how to put on a party. It wasn’t long after that that I learned they all had a little party of their own, just before coming out to my place. I might add that I was not invited. Just as well though, I don’t think I could have successfully finished my presentation of the skies if I had partaken of the festivities.
But I must admit, everyone seemed to have a great time, for I was worried there for a while that they may never leave. But that is where the fun is for me, when visitors enjoy themselves so much that they don’t want to leave. And that is just fine with me, no matter what the reason. I’m just not sure if alcohol and astronomy go that well together. It was a very enjoyable evening. Good people. (You know who you are!)
Okay, get out those dusty old telescopes and point them to the sky and see what you can see. See if you can find the Summer Triangle, not too hard. Don’t forget family and friends, when you do. You don’t have to worry about what you and your friends are looking at; the sky is perfectly capable of speaking for itself. Clear skies.
September Sky Watch
- 9/5 Moon at first quarter, 8:10 p.m.
- 9/6 Moon passes 2 degrees north of Jupiter
- 9/8 Moon is 0.04 degrees south of Saturn
- 9/8 Moon is 0.08 degrees north of Pluto
- 9/13 Moon is farthest from Earth (apogee-252,511 mi)
- 9/13 Moon is 4 degrees south of Neptune
- 9/13 Full Moon occurs at 9:33 p.m.
- 9/17 Moon is 4 degrees south of Uranus (Ur’ a’ nus)’
- 9/21 Last Quarter Moon occurs at 7:41 p.m.
- 9/23 Autumnal equinox occurs 12:50 a.m. The Sun travels across the equator into the southern celestial hemisphere. Get ready for Fall and Winter.
- 9/27 Moon is closest to Earth (perigee-222,328 mi)
- 9/27 New Moon occurs at 11:26 a.m.
- 9/28 Mercury is 1.4 degrees north of Spica 4 p.m.
- 9/29 Moon is 6 degrees north of Mercury, 3 p.m.
Other articles in this series: