What’s Up – Planetarium Blog
What I love most about rivers is
You can’t step in the same river twice
The water’s always changing, always flowing
Just Around the Riverbend – Disney’s Pocahontas
As one who loves rivers (I have been a kayaker since early teens) and loves the night sky, I can tell you there is a lot of truth to that song lyric. While the river’s waters continue to flow, so does the spectacle of the night sky as well. Generally, the sentiment rings true. You may have turned to look for the shooting star arcing across the sky after hearing someone shout “Shooting star!!”. Too late, that ship had sailed. This summer there was an amazing sight to behold. Our nearest neighbor in space, the Moon, formed an awesome pairing with Jupiter, Saturn and the Milky Way during the first week of August. You may have missed it then, but stand by for another great show in September. Perhaps the river flows your way again.
For convenience sake, we will be looking towards the southern skies around 9:00 PM during the time of these events. Look to see the two gas giants: Jupiter and Saturn blazing bright in the sky.
We will begin on September 2, 2019. The two giant planets lie near the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. Look through a decent backyard telescope and you may see Jupiter and its four large moons.
You can find the heart of Scorpius the scorpion by searching for a red star just below Jupiter. That red star is a red supergiant star known as Antares (meaning the rival of Mars). It is over 700 times bigger than our sun. In many cultures, Scorpius was identified as s “fishhook”. The hook is the stinger on the scorpion’s tail. The head and pincers of the scorpion form from a trident of stars opposite the hook.
Sagittarius was identified as mythological centaur archer. Today we look for a “teapot” in the south to find its location. The bright object located just above the teapot of Sagittarius is Saturn. A glance through a decent telescope reveals it beautiful rings and possibly its largest moon, Titan.
Both Sagittarius and Scorpius align with the physical center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. The bright area resembling a cloud between the two constellations is the center of the galaxy; its central hub. This is the Andromeda Galaxy. Our galaxy is of a similar shape but a bit smaller. We will discuss how to find the galaxy later in this blog.
On September 2, 2019, you will notice the moon low in the southwestern sky. Visits to the same viewing place over the next week or so will reveal very cool alignments of celestial objects known as a conjunction. Notice how close the Moon gets to Jupiter on the evening of September 5.
The Moon is moving away from the setting sun, and appears to get brighter as the week progresses. This is known as the waxing phase. You will see a sliver of a moon on the 5th and the moon will move closer to Saturn for the next few nights.
The Moon moves towards the conjunction with Saturn later in the week. This is where the Moon will be on Sept. 7. When will it make its closest alignment with Saturn? What will the Moon’s phase be? Don’t miss it, that river is always changing.
Legends of the Night Sky – Perseus and Andromeda is playing in the Beazley Planetarium this month. The show deals with the mythology of the Greek hero in a fun cartoony sort of way. After viewing the planetarium show you may wish to find the characters from the show in your own early fall sky. For this, we will turn our attention away from Scorpius and Sagittarius towards the northeastern sky.
You will have the greatest luck in finding Cassiopeia the Queen. As you may recall this queen’s boasting of her beauty caused her daughter Andromeda’s sentence of being chained to a rock and being the snack for Cetus the sea monster. Look for the “W” or “M” in the sky. You have found Cassiopeia. Her husband Cepheus is nearby. Look for the “dog house” above the W. The slain Gorgon Medusa’s blood spilling into the ocean gave birth to Pegasus the winged horse (Perseus is seen holding her head). Look for the giant square of Pegasus towards the east. The “V” that forms between Pegasus and Cassiopeia is Andromeda. Alas poor Perseus is a bit more difficult to see, being lower in the sky, and lacking really bright stars. Just remember that Perseus lies below the W of Cassiopeia
As you may recall we mentioned that Andromeda is not only the name of a constellation, but it is also the name of our closest galaxy neighbor. The Andromeda Galaxy is about twice the size of our galaxy, with a similar spiral shape. It lies about two million light-years from our Milky Way Galaxy. That means the light you are seeing coming from Andromeda left two million years ago and is just getting here now! It is also on a collision course with us. Don’t worry, it will not happen for about four billion years. The Andromeda Galaxy is the furthest object we can see without the aid of a telescope. You can try to locate this body by “star-hopping” from an easily located star or constellation. In the image above you may barely see the “fuzzy patch” that is the Andromeda Galaxy.
To find it locate Cassiopeia again. Look for the bright star in the “W”. Draw a line from that star towards Pegasus’s bright corner star. About halfway you may see the patch. Sometimes it is useful to wait about 15 minutes or so to get your eyes accustomed to night vision. It is often useful to give a sort of sideways glance at the area to allow you to first locate the galaxy. It becomes even more impressive through the magnification of binoculars or telescope. You can always download an app on your phone to help you. Happy hunting.
What wonders await those that cast their gaze upward! Never stop asking “What’s up?”