The nights are finally getting longer and clearer as the summer sun and humidity begin to wane. With the frequent passage of wet cold fronts in western NC there have been some spectacularly clear nights following a heavy downpour.
There is not much to see in the planetary department this month unless you are an early riser and can catch Jupiter as its orbit swings it from around behind the Sun where it was at opposition in July. Mars and Saturn are staying close to the western horizon as the Sun sets but you can still catch good views of both if you have a clear shot of the western sky. Both planets are dimming rapidly and will be hard to spot with low clouds but worth taking a look. Mars will be close to the bright star Antares from the 24th-30th at dusk. Antares (which means ‘anti-Mars’ in ancient Greek) is about the same color and brightness as Mars. They are joined by the Moon on the 28th and 29th low in the west at sunset.
The full moon on September the 9th is called the Harvest Moon by native Americans because it is the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox (on September 23rd this year). This usually occurs in September but can also occur in October.
Speaking of October, mark your calendars for two very important astronomical events; a total lunar eclipse on the 8th and a partial solar eclipse on the 23rd. More details next month but depending on weather I will try to organize observing sessions for both. The lunar eclipse will begin before dawn but the solar eclipse will of course be during the day around noon.
Thats all for this month. Remember to turn of unnecessary outdoor lights and go out on clear nights and enjoy the skies of Balsam Mountain Preserve.
Jim Stratigos – Resident Astronomer