Backyard Stargazer: September 2016

By Francis Parnell

By now we’ve all noticed that the Sun is rising a little later and setting a few minutes earlier. Fall, with its cooler weather, is only three weeks away. Since the nights won’t be as hot or humid, it’s more fun to get outside and do some stargazing.

Francis Parnell, the Backyard Stargazer of Darlington

Francis Parnell, the Backyard Stargazer of Darlington

At dusk on the 4th, the waxing crescent Moon is low in the west with “Spica,” the brightest star in Virgo, about 5-degrees to its lower left.

One hour after sunset on the 8th, the Moon, not quite first quarter, can be spotted 4-degrees above yellow Saturn. Bright Mars blazes 9-degrees left of Saturn, while brilliant “Antares,” the heart of the Scorpion, twinkles 6-degrees below and a bit left of the ringed planet.
On the 9th, after sunset, look for Mars about 10-degrees to the lower right of the first quarter Moon.

The full Moon for September occurring nearest the Autumnal Equinox is called the “Full Harvest Moon.” Named by the Native Americans hundreds of years ago, they would use the light of the full Moon to gather their staples of corn, squash, beans, wild rice, and pumpkins. Modern farmers have also worked their fields by the light of the Harvest Moon. And old “Luna”, our nearest neighbor in space, rises fully illuminated at sunset on Friday, the 16th.
On the 22nd at 10:21 a.m., Earth is at the Equinox and Autumn officially begins in the northern hemisphere. Equinox is from two Latin words: Equi, (equal), and Nox, (night).
By the end of the month, and if you have an unobstructed view of the horizon, sparkling white Venus can be found low in the south-southwest just after sunset.

If you have a small telescope or binoculars, or if you just enjoy naked-eye stargazing, head outside and remember to “Keep looking up!”

Francis Parnell of Darlington has been an amateur astronomer for over 46 years, and was on the staff and helped out at the Francis Marion University Observatory from 1982 until 2006 by showing visitors “what’s out there.” With the help of a friend, Mr. Ernest Lowry, he built his own telescope in 1986. And, because of light pollution, for the last 31 years he has been advocating for the advantages of using fully-shielded lighting at night.

Author: Jana Pye

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