Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Keep Looking Up

Greetings all!

I know, I know, I'm a day late again.  Once again, the internets refused to let me in to my blog if I'm not at work.  I'm not sure what's broken, but I think I'm going to stop trying to fix it.

Things are still a little shaken up here at the museum as we work on recovering from the flood, but overall, we're trying to get everything settled down into something resembling a routine.  So I thought I'd go back to a routine here as well and just talk about what's visible in the sky right now.  Sometimes doing the "normal" things helps the most when things are decidedly not normal.

We're getting ready to make the transition into fall, with longer nights and cooler temperatures, thank goodness.  It's a pleasure to be outside in the evenings might even find you need a light jacket if you plan to stay outside for any length of time.  What a wonderful thing!

It will still be a couple of months before the brilliant stars of winter begin to grace the evening skies, but until then you can enjoy the last hurrah of summer - The Summer Triangle.  Three bright stars form a brilliant triangle that sits high overhead just after sunset and descends towards the west as the evening passes on.  To the East, you'll find the familiar Great Square of Pegasus - four stars in an almost perfect square dominate the eastern sky and mark the location of the legendary winged horse.  Two simple bright shapes that are pretty tough to miss.

The Summer Triangle and its surrounds.  Courtesy the University of Illinois.  Note that the Milky Way passes directly through the center of the triangle.

Looking westward at sunset might allow you a final quick glimpse of the planets Mars and Saturn, both sinking rapidly towards the Sun.  By the end of the month, both planets will be lost to our view.  Mars will still be in the news regularly however, as Curiosity really gets rolling on its mission to explore the Red Planet.  Sadly, with Mars and Saturn so low, and both relatively dim, you might miss them if you have anything other than a totally clear flat western horizon...hard to come by on the east coast of the United States.

However, don't get too downcast just yet.  If you can stand an early morning wake up call, you can see a pair of beautifully brilliant planets in the early morning sky.  Head outside around 5am and look to the east to see Venus and Jupiter dominate the pre-dawn sky.  Jupiter stands high in the east (almost to the south) with Venus lower but still plenty high enough to be seen quite easily.  These two are the brightest of the planets visible to the unaided eye, and make a stunning pair.  Well worth the effort of rising before the Sun to enjoy them.

Venus, The Moon and Jupiter in the early morning sky.  Photograph by Alan Dyer.  The Moon is the brightest object in the field, with Venus slightly up and to the left.  Jupiter stands up towards the top of the image to the right of the Moon and Venus.

Ah.  Just talking about the beautiful skies of fall helps me feel a bit better.  There's plenty of work still to be done, but taking the time to enjoy the simple things in life really does renew your spirit.

See you in two weeks...and until then...
Carpe noctem!

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