Starry, starry nights—Star Party looking up
Member of the Albuquerque Astronomical Society
On Saturday, September 28, see the stars in Placitas along with the Albuquerque Astronomical Society to promote maintaining dark skies. Las Placitas Association will be hosting this annual event from sundown to 10:00 p.m. at Homestead Village Shopping Center, weather permitting.
Placitas Star Party visitors will be treated to several of the night sky’s finest offerings, including the double star Albireo, called the Cub Scout Star (come and see why); the Ring Nebula in Lyra, a celestial “smoke ring” also known as M57; the globular star cluster in Hercules, a compact “star city” of several hundred thousand stars also known as M13; and our galaxy’s “twin sister,” the spiral galaxy in Andromeda known as M31. Also on display will be the glorious star clouds of the summer Milky Way with its own host of clusters and nebulas.
Homestead Village is at 221 Highway 165 in Placitas. The star party is a free family event.
September Sky in Sandoval County
September is a great time to step outside in the evenings and look up at the sky. The nights are still warm and the summer monsoons are fading, leaving most nights clear for stargazing.
To get oriented among the stars, look towards the south on September 15 at 11:00 p.m. You are looking toward the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Now, look straight up. This is the direction our solar system is traveling around the center of the galaxy. It may not look like we are moving very fast, but the sun and all of its planets are moving toward the star you see directly overhead, Deneb, at 137 miles per second. In about two million years, our sun will be where Deneb is now, a distance of twenty-five hundred light-years.
Deneb, Vega, and Altar, form the Summer Triangle. Deneb is also the tail of the giant swan Cygnus who flies south along the river of milk. This star is a true super giant, about two hundred times the diameter of our sun. Within a few million years, Deneb is destined to explode in a super nova. That will be awesome event viewed from Earth.
- The Voyager I spacecraft was launched twenty-five years ago, on September 5, 1977. The sturdy craft is still transmitting data to Earth periodically. It is 7.9 billion miles from the Sun and heading up and out of the plane of the solar system. Because of the great distance, takes about twelve hours for the radio signal to reach us.
- The new moon, on September 7, will give us a chance to see the ribbon of stars that are a part of the Milky Way. You can see it stretching overhead from the north to the south.
- The Moon is full on September 21.
Where are the planets?
- Venus is low in the southwestern sky and sinking fast. For now, it is the only planet visible in the evening.
- Shortly after midnight Saturn becomes the brightest planet in the sky. Look for it in the constellation Taurus.
- Jupiter has slipped behind the Sun into the constellation Cancer. You will find Jupiter low in the eastern sky before dawn later in the month.
- Mars and Mercury are not visible until the end of September as they slowly emerge from the glare of the Sun.
An August Near Miss
Did anyone chance to see the asteroid that missed us by a meager 310,000 miles (1-1/4 times the distance to the Moon) on August 18? Asteroid 2002 NY40 is a medium-sized one, about eight football fields in length. If you had been looking in the right place with a simple pair of binoculars, you would have seen it streaking by.
Asteroids passing within than 23 million miles of Earth (0.25 AU) during September
We have all heard the dire warnings about the big one that may hit Earth some day. Most of us don't really know how many space rocks pass "close" in astronomical measures every month. Don’t worry, none of these will be falling to Earth:
September 2: Asteroid 2001 QJ96, 5 million miles
September 4: Asteroid 2001 QL142, 23 million miles
September 5: Asteroid 2002 PE130, 19 million miles
September 11: Asteroid 2002 PQ6, 20 million miles
September 12: Asteroid 2002 PW39, 15.7 million miles
September 16: Asteroid 1998 FF14, 6.4 million miles
September 16: Asteroid 2002 PY39, 9.3 million miles
September 25: Asteroid 2001 WT1, 15.3 million miles
September 30: Asteroid 1998 RO1, 17.1 million miles