Look Through a Telescope!
By Phyllis Pitluga
On Saturday, September 27, from 8 to 10pm at Charco del Ingenio Botanic Garden, join us in this rare celestial opportunity to look through a telescope to view Saturn, Mars, star systems, and the Andromeda Galaxy, weather permitting (40 pesos). Bring a flashlight dimmed by red or brown paper so that it doesn’t affect the adaptation of our eyes to view the planets and stars. Also, bring your own binoculars or telescope, if you wish (but you are responsible for them).
From the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice, the “stars of autumn” gleam overhead in the evening sky. Throughout autumn, you will gradually see the constellations drift westward because we will be orbiting a quarter of the way around the sun. Framing the overhead autumn stars, the Summer Triangle is setting in the west while Orion and the stars of winter are rising in the east. The W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia is overhead in autumn. At the beginning of each month, locate Cassiopeia overhead in October at midnight, in November at 10pm, and in December at 8pm.
South of and beneath Cassiopeia is our neighboring galaxy, the Great Andromeda Galaxy. To see it, make a fist and fully extend your arm. Look across the upper edge of your fist and place it just beneath Cassiopeia. Below the bottom edge of your fist and to the right you can make out a fuzzy patch of light on a clear dark moonless night. With your eyes alone, you are looking across 2.2 million light years of space! Using binoculars you will see the glowing core of this galaxy in a hazy island of billions of stars.
The spacecraft Rosetta of the European Space Agency has now arrived at a comet that is nicknamed Rubber Ducky because it is shaped like the child’s toy. In the photo composite, the ducky is lying on its back, head to the right. The true color of a comet is surprisingly dark. Comets have been likened to a dirty snowball (admittedly a foreign concept here in San Miguel). In November, its lander will detach and descend to the surface of this rock-ice little world. This comet is named Cherymov-Gerasimeko.
The Chinese moon rover, named Yutu, has just returned a panorama from its location on the surface of our moon. It shows Chang’e-3 lander and the tracks of the Yutu rover in the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains).
As we go to press, two separate orbiting missions are arriving at Mars: MAVEN from the United States, arriving September 21, and MOM from India, arriving September 24. Both missions will be sampling and studying Mar’s atmosphere to better understand its climate history in our continuing search for signs of life there.
Mexico returns to Standard Time on Sunday October 26 at 2am. So set your clocks back an hour as you go to bed Saturday night. This is one week before the United States and Canada change their clocks. After the equinox, the southern hemisphere gradually receives the increased hours of sunlight. In case you are flying between October 26 and November 1, airlines publish local departure and local arrival times.
Sky News for Autumn 2014
(All dates below have been calculated for San Miguel de Allende.)
Sun: The autumnal equinox occurs Monday September 22 and the winter solstice occurs on Sunday, December 21.
Mercury: In mid-October Mercury passes between Earth and Sun, appears in the dawn sky in late October, is highest in the morning sky on November 1, returns to the glare of the dawn sky, and then disappears behind the sun for the rest of the year.
Venus: In October and November Venus is behind the sun but reappears in the evening sky by December.
Mars is low in the southwest evening sky all autumn.
Jupiter: The largest planet rises in the east-northeast after midnight in October, late evening in November, and mid-evening by December.
Saturn: By late October, Saturn vanishes in the evening twilight and reappears in the December dawn sky.
Moon Phases: New moon September 24, full moon October 8, new moon October 23, full moon November 6, new moon November 22, December 6 full moon, and new moon December 22. Between new moon and full moon, the waxing moon is in our evening sky, growing “thicker” nightly. From full moon to new moon the waning moon is getting “thinner”in our morning sky. Hourly the moon moves its own diameter eastward. As it does so, the moon passes the planets, thus becoming a bright pointer in the sky.
Orionid Meteor Shower: Best viewing is between midnight and dawn on October 20 with the shower radiant in the constellation of Orion, which is in the southeast at midnight and south by 4:30am. About 20 shooting stars are visible per hour.
Geminid Meteor Shower: With about 120 shooting stars per hours, this shower emanates from the constellation of Gemini rising in the east at dusk and moving to the south by midnight. Best viewing is in the evening on December 13 or 14 before moonrise (around midnight).
Eclipses: A total lunar eclipse will be visible here in the early hours of dawn between 4:15am and 7:34am above the western horizon. The moon is slipping through the northern half of Earth’s shadow cast out into space. Thus, the moon will be darkest along its bottom half. Totality is ending here as the sun rises.
A partial sun eclipse takes place two weeks later when the moon has gone half way around the sky and will pass across the sun between 5:20pm and 6:46pm in the southwest.
Warning: It is never safe to look directly at the sun. View only with special eclipse filters (not sun glasses). The best way to see this solar eclipse is to look at the sun images on the ground beneath trees and bushes or use a straw sombrero with a loose weave. Hold it out toward the sun and look at the shadow of the sombrero on the ground. You should see multiple little sun dots with dark “bites” from the moon passing over the sun.
Phyllis Burton Pitluga is Astronomer Emerita from Chicago’s Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum and now a resident of San Miguel de Allende