Welcome back, old friend

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Met an old friend this morning, one of my oldest friends in fact. I couldn't sleep because of a head cold so I decided to get up. Out our balcony window I saw Orion, the Hunter hanging high above the south eastern horizon. Haven't seen him since last May.

His faithful canine companion, Sirius, the brightest star in Canis Major, was standing by just to his lower left blazing away with sparkling color. Quite a sight in binoculars.

That means one thing -- winter is coming.

Orion is the penultimate representative of winter. Rising above the eastern horizon by 8 pm MDT on Dec. 21--the first day of winter--and standing upright in the south at midnight. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, "He doth bestride the heavens like a colossus."

His hour-glass shape cannot be missed with the bright star Betelgeuse for his right shoulder and even brighter Rigel for a left knee and the three-star belt across the middle. Then add in the three stars for his sword hanging below the belt it is a grand sight.

Except not all of the "stars" in the sword are stars. The middle object is the famed Orion Nebula. If we use binoculars and look even closer we can see the top object is not a star either. It is a small cluster of stars with just a hint of nebulosity.

Seems we have another perigee moon--or as some have called it, a "Super Moon."

The moon will be full on Monday, Sept. 8, just about two hours before it reaches its closest point for the month.

This full moon is also the "Harvest Moon." Called so because in the days before mechanized and headlight-equipped farm machinery the bright moonlight allowed farmers to be in the fields longer.

The outer gas giant planets Uranus and Neptune will be near the moon on Sept. 7 and 10 respectively, but will not be viewable because of the lunar brightness.

Saturday, Sept. 6, is International Observe the Moon night. On that evening people all around the world will be stepping outside to take a look at the almost-full moon. The best time to observe will be between 8:30 and 9 p.m. MDT.

The moon will be about halfway up the sky above the southeast horizon. You can observe using a telescope or binoculars, or just by looking at it with your own two eyes.

Here is a challenge for you. We all know about the Man In The Moon. How about seeing if you can find the Rabbit In The Moon.

If you would like more information, or to find a location near you that is hosting an observation event, point your favorite web browser to: http://observethemoonnight.org/. There you will find a map of event hosting locations and more information about looking at Earth's only natural satellite.

One more thing, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 1966 the immortal words, "Space, the final frontier" were added to our lexicon.

On that date the television program Star Trek premiered. During the next three years, and the many movies that followed, we all became acquainted with Capt. James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Scottie, Lts. Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu, and Leonard "Bones" McCoy.

And what a ride it has been.

SKYWATCH: Full moon, Monday, Sept. 8. It is also the Harvest Moon, and a perigee moon.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.

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