The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

NIGHT SKIES

Night Sky

Looking southeast on September 4 at 5:45 a.m. for Neptune and Uranus.

Night Sky

Looking southeast twenty-three hours after sunset all month.

Save our starry night skies

Be a considerate neighbor: Reduce nighttime glare. Shield all your outside lights downward (or turn them off completely) and enjoy the beautiful, starry night sky.

September night sky
—CHARLIE CHRISTMANN

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX
September is the month where summer ends and fall begins in the northern hemisphere. Today, Autumnal Equinox happens when the Sun passes directly over the equator as it slides further south in the sky each day. The long days of summer begin to give way to the long nights of winter. This equinox occurs in modern times with the Sun located in the constellation Virgo. Hence, September births are associated with that zodiac sign.

On the day of the equinox, the length of daylight and night are approximately the same, twelve hours each. It also means the sun will be rising due east and setting due west. This year, the equinox occurs at 3:52 a.m. MDT on September 23rd.

SURPRISE SHOWER
The Aurigid meteor shower normally receives little attention for its lack of meteors. The meteors are called “Aurigids” because they appear to fan out from the constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer. Most years, only a scant few, if any at all, meteors are produced by this shower; however, this year, you might want to pay attention on the morning of September 1st.

Meteor showers occur whenever Earth passes into the dusty debris left behind by a comet that passes through our neighborhood. The debris left behind by Kiess, a comet last seen in 1911, is what produces the Aurigids. Kiess is a very long period comet that takes approximately twenty-five hundred years to orbit the Sun. Usually the Earth misses one of the trails left behind during a rare pass through the inner solar system; sometimes, we hit the edge of one like we did in 1935, 1986, and 1994 when small, but surprising showers were produced.

In 2007, however, the Earth is expected to pass within thirty-nine-thousand miles of the center of a dust trail, which astronomers Esko Lyytinen of Finland and Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in California believe will produce a rich shower of bright meteors.
Random shooting stars, or meteors, are visible any night of the year. On average, five or six per hour are normal under dark skies. During a respectable meteor shower, you can see upwards of one a minute. But occasionally, the sky explodes in a rare meteor storm. Storms are something to get excited about. During the short peak of a good storm, you could see one thousand meteors per hour. These rare outbursts usually last only for a short fifteen-minute show, so you need to be lucky to see one.

So, what is the official forecast for the 2007 Aurigid Meteor Shower? Jenniskens predicts at least four hundred meteors per hour, possibly even exceeding one thousand per hour. The peak of the shower is predicted to occur at 11:37 GMT (5:37 a.m. MDT). Unfortunately, this comes during daylight for Europe and much of North America. But the western United States and Canada, as well as much of Alaska and Hawaii will still be in darkness and would be in an excellent position to view it, even with the waxing gibbous Moon. Twilight may hamper New Mexico viewers more than the Moon—sunrise on the first is 6:40 a.m.

These meteors should produce bright streaks in the sky, as they are predicted to be a bit larger than the usual sand-grain bits of dust and hit the atmosphere at a blazing forty-one miles per second. Many should appear as bright as the brighter stars. A scant few may even outshine Jupiter and Venus. So, the Moon should not hinder the display too much.

So, get up early on Saturday morning and hope for a great celestial show before the Sun rises.

THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
• Mercury will be setting about thirty minutes after the Sun in the west.
• Venus is now a morning object in the eastern sky. Look for a conjunction with the Moon on the 9th about 6:00 a.m. If you look closely, just below the Moon will be the star Regulus, with Saturn just below it.
• Morning is the time to look for Mars, too. It will be in the southeast about forty-five degrees above the horizon an hour before sunrise. On the 4th, check out the Mars-Moon conjunction just above Betelgeuse, the left (your left) shoulder of Orion. Rigel, is the right-side foot of Orion. Castor and Pollux, the twins, are even with Betelgeuse and to the south. Serius is the bright star near the horizon below Orion.
• Jupiter is high in the south after sunset above Antares, the heart of the Scorpion. The Moon joins the pair on the evening of the 18th.
• Saturn is a morning planet, rising about forty-five minutes before the Sun in the east.
• Feeling lucky? Get out your binoculars and look for Neptune in the constellation Capricornus.

If you have a question or comment for Charlie, you may email him at k5cec@yahoo.com.

 


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