Happy Labor Day! Its hard to believe that September is actually here. The good news for skywatchers is that with the autumnal equinox only three weeks away we should start to dry out and see clear skies more often.
The Milky Way has been very noticeable the past few weeks with our dryer skies. The milky arm that stretches across the sky (almost directly over head this time of the year) is simply the millions of stars that make up one of the spiral arms of our galaxy as you look back along the galactic equator.
This month be sure to check out Venus in the hours before and after dusk as it sets in the west. Venus is the brightest object in the sky after the moon so its hard to miss its searchlight on clear nights. Saturn is much dimmer but only about 20 degrees to the upper left of Venus. It will gradually close the gap and be just over 3 degrees away by the 18th.
While you are checking out the western sky around dusk try to catch a glimpse of elusive Mercury – it will be just above the horizon late in the month but if you can make it up to the 14th green (one of the best observing sites on the mountain) you should be able to see it.
Jupiter and Mars are visible in the east in the earl dawn hours if you are up early this month.
Nothing special with the Moon this month – the so called ‘blue moon’ last month is just an ‘extra’ full moon that appears in a season. Like the ‘harvest moon’, ‘wet moon’ and ‘black moon’ its just a way to denote a full moon coinciding with some other event on the calendar. Since our calendar and the lunar month are not the same, these events occur on varying days of the year.
As always, don’t forget to turn off your outside lights at night. As everyone at Balsam knows, our wildlife and amateur astronomers really like to enjoy the night without artificial lights. We can’t do much about lights from outside the community (like the mercury vapor lights some Jackson county homes burn all night) but we can all help keep Balsam’s skies dark. For more information on ways you can save the night sky, reduce your carbon footprint and save energy check out the International Dark Sky Association’s website.
Jim Stratigos – Resident Astronomer