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Thursday, May 5, 2016

'International Observe the Moon Night' Sept. 22

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Okay troops, I have three exciting things for you this week.

First up is Saturday, Sept. 22. That is the date for the "International Observe the Moon Night."

You won't need any special equipment to do this, just go outside and look. Of course, a pair of binoculars or even a small telescope would be nice. The moon will be at first quarter (half of its face lit by sunlight).

For more information, point your favorite web browser to www.observethemoonnight.org.

If you do have a telescope, pay special attention to the terminator, the line separating the dark from the light half of the moon face, there is some very nice cratering to observe there.

Second on our list is something we have all been waiting for, the beginning of autumn, which for some strange reason is also on Saturday, Sept. 22.

The technical name for this event is the autumnal equinox, meaning the length of day an night will be equal. That, however, will only be true if you live on or near the equator.

On that day, at precisely 8:49am MDT the sun will cross the celestial equator in its journey south.

For us here in SW Nebraska near 40 degrees North, equal day and night will be on Wednesday, Sept. 26, when there will be 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark.

However, by now I am sure all of you have noticed the cooling temperatures, the lengthening shadows from the south and the sun shining in that south facing window that has been dark all summer.

Of course, the sun is not moving, the earth is, and because of that pesky 23.5 degree tilt of our axis, the Sun alternately shines on the northern and southern hemispheres.

While we have been enjoying summer, our friends in the southern half of the world have been experiencing winter. But, all that is about to change. We are coming into autumn and they are anxiously anticipating spring.

For our third major event we will need to wait until Oct. 5, for the beginning of the two-week long "World-wide Star Count."

This is not necessarily an attempt to actually count the stars as it is an effort to determine the amount of light pollution across the world.

Light pollution is the result of too much light from artificial sources, such as street lights, outdoor advertising, and other sources of light that is directed into the sky and not where it is supposed to go.

While living in Benkelman, light pollution was not much of a problem. A trip five or six miles outside of town would put us in a place that was dark enough to easily observe the sky.

However, now living in Denver, such a trip would take more than an hour to get away from the pervasive sky glow from all the orange sodium vapor lighting. On my trips outside my front door it is impossible to see the Milky Way and almost hopeless to see any stars less than first magnitude.

Last year during the star count I was able to see a seventh magnitude sky even in town from my backyard, now that I am in Denver, I don't hope for much.

Use your browser and go to www.windows2universe.org/citizen_science... for information and star maps to determine the quality of the sky from your backyard.

SKY WATCH: New moon, Saturday, Sept. 15. Look west about an hour after sunset for a fleeting glimpse of the planets Saturn (closest to the horizon) and Mars. I say fleeting because both will soon disappear from our sky. For you morning types look to the east about an hour before sunrise for an extremely thin crescent moon standing between bright Venus above and Regulus, the heart of Leo, the Lion.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.

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Vernon Whetstone
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