The Harvest Moon Effect

September 27, 2007

With the full moon rising on the evening of the 26th, the 2007 “Harvest Moon” appeared in all it’s glory in the eastern sky, and was visible setting in the western sky on the 27th even after 8.00am.

Tonight’s moon rises a scant 25 minutes after last night’s moon, giving rise to the phrase “Harvest Moon Effect.” Whereas under normal circumstances the moon rises approximately 50 minutes later each night from our location, during this time of year the moon rises in half that time. This is due to the angle of the ecliptic in relation to the horizon. The smaller angle means the moon rises at nearly the same time over successive evenings, giving more moonlight all night.

This effect is slightly less pronounced next month, when the “Hunter’s Moon” will rise on the evening of October 26th. But between now and then, go out and experience the wonder of the pale moonlight bathing your surroundings in its soft, ethereal glow.


September’s Full “Harvest” Moon

September 25, 2007

When you step outside the evening of the 26th at sunset, you will see quite a site: the beautiful full moon rising in the east.

The full moon for this month is called the Harvest Moon. This is the name given to the full moon nearest the fall (autumnal) equinox. At this time, the bright full moon in the sky allows farmers to work in their fields longer, harvesting the yearly crop.

The full moon only happens when the moon is opposite the sky from the sun, so it rises as the sun sets. The full moon on Wednesday is exactly at 3.45pm EDT. Sunset will be at 7.33pm and the moon will have risen 12 minutes earlier.

On Thursday, we’ll discuss the “effect” the Harvest Moon has. Until then, even if you don’t have anything to harvest, step outside tomorrow night and enjoy the visual harvest of the full moon.


“Falling” into a new Season

September 23, 2007

Did you know that when you went to bed last night it was summer, and when you got up this morning it summer was over? Well it’s true. Welcome to Fall, or the “Autumnal Equinox.”

This year Fall arrived at 5.51am EDT. At that time, the sun was directly over the celestial equator, halfway between it’s travels from the summer solstice in June to the winter solstice in December.

The term “Equinox” means “equal night” (from the Latin). In theory, on the equinoxes you have equal amounts of day and night, but it actually varies because of a few factors, some of which being the orbit of the earth, the way the atmosphere bends light (refraction), and your actual position on the earth. But the common understanding is that we have equal amounts of daylight and nighttime on this date.

Because of it’s position in the sky, at this time of year there is a concern about the sun. Nothing serious, but it is a problem for individuals who happen to be driving in the early morning and late evening. Since the sun’s position in our sky is over the equator, when it rises and sets it is directly east or west. That means if you happen to be driving east in the early morning, or west in the evening, you’re going to be staring right into the sun. Please take care while driving, and remember, never stare directly at the sun.

So go out and experience the new season, and get ready for the fall harvest, changing leaves, pumpkins, and crisp clear fall nights.


More Google Astronomy

September 21, 2007

On the heels of the announcement last month, Google has now come out with Google Moon.

This had been previously available in a limited fashion, showing the Apollo landing areas. However, if you used the zoom function and zoomed all the way in, you got to see the moon as cheese. 🙂

This new version, however, is serious. They have used more actual imagery of the moon, and includes lunar charts as well.

As of now, they are only showing a small area of the moon, but it’s hoped that they will expand to encompass the entire surface of our natural satellite.

So head on over there and explore the moon and find out where twelve humans took the first steps on another world.


TV Alert! – “Seeing in the Dark”

September 18, 2007

For those of you out there who might be interested in just what astronomy – especially amateur astronomy – is all about, there’s a television special for you airing on Wednesday, September 19th on PBS.

It is titled “Seeing in the Dark” and it is a film by noted author Timothy Ferris.

Stargazing is the subject of Seeing in the Dark, a 60-minute, state-of-the-art, high-definition (HDTV) documentary by Timothy Ferris that premieres on PBS September 19, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. The film, Ferris’ third, is based on his book, Seeing in the Dark (2002), named by The New York Times as one of the ten best books of the year.

Seeing in the Dark is meant to alter, inspire and illuminate the lives of millions,” said Ferris. “It introduces viewers to the rewards of first-person, hands-on astronomy — from kids learning the constellations to amateur astronomers doing professional-grade research in discovering planets and exploding stars. I hope it will encourage many viewers to make stargazing part of their lives, and a few to get into serious amateur astronomy.”

Locally the show will air on WGVU Channel 35 & 52 at 8.00pm EDT, with a repeat on Friday at 2.00am.

We encourage anyone with an interest in astronomy to watch this program. And as a bonus, after the feature, there will be a repeat showing of the program “The Sidewalk Astronomer” about the life of John Dobson…

On any given night around the world, thousands of people peer into deep space because of John Dobson. A 91-year-old with a white ponytail and a knack for comedy, John Dobson revolutionized astronomy. He is the inventor of the Dobsonian telescope mount, which changed the field of astronomy dramatically, making telescopes accessible to the public on every continent. A former Vedanta monk of the Ramakrishna Order, he is a co-founder of “Sidewalk Astronomers,” an organization that encourages amateurs to share their telescopes and knowledge with others on busy city streets and in national parks. As John says, “The Universe is bigger than the Earth; it’s bigger than the solar system; it’s bigger than our galaxy and we owe it to ourselves to notice it.”

For more information on “Seeing in the Dark” please check out the PBS website, and the companion website to the film.

And after seeing both of these programs, come out and see your local amateur astronomers at the James C. Veen Observatory. You’ll get to see up close and personal just what astronomers do.


Where’s that Planet?

September 11, 2007

Depending on what time you are outside, there are at least three planets available in the sky at any given time during September. Evening brings you Jupiter, nighttime gives you Mars, and morning brings you Venus. But just what time are these easily seen?

We’ll start with the evening, and work throughout the night (all information is for September 15th).

As the sun sets in the west, Jupiter is already up in the southern sky, just west of due south. It is the brightest object in the evening sky, and sets in the southwest before midnight.

Jupiter at sunset on September 15

Turning to the east about a one-half our after Jupiter sets, Mars is rising and is 30° over the horizon at 3.00am. At 0 megnitude, it is the brightest object in the sky until the star Sirius rises an hour later. At dawn Mars is nearly 70 high about straight south.

Mars at 3.00am on September 16

At just before sunrise, the planets Venus ans Saturn appear in the morning twilight. At 7:00am, Venus is a brilliant star-like object 25° above the horizon, while Saturn shines a bit dimmer 10° to the lower left of Venus. Sunrise will quickly cause Saturn to disappear in the morning glare, but Venus stay visible longer.

Venus ans Saturn just before sunrise on September 16

So no matter what time of night you are out and about, there will be a bright planet visible to your eyes.  Go out and enjoy the wonders of the starry sky above your head.


The Early Bird gets the Planet

September 5, 2007

If you are getting up early these days, either to get the kids off to school, or go to work (or perhaps you’re coming home form work) you might see a really bright object in the morning twilight to the east. No, it’s nothing “unidentified”, it’s the planet Venus.

If you remember near the end of July we lost Venus in the evening twilight, and it passed between us and the Sun in the middle of August. But because of the steep angle of the ecliptic this time of year, Venus has quickly risen to become prominent in the morning sky.

Venus in the September morning sky
Venus in the morning sky just before sunrise

As we continue into the Fall season, Venus will rise earlier and earlier, rising higher each morning until late October/early November. But at that time, the ecliptic will not be as steep, and we will actually have Venus in the morning sky well through winter.

So while you’re rushing around in the morning getting ready to go out, or go in, take a look outside before sunrise to see the morning beacon guiding the sun to its place in the sky.