Stargazer: For a change: Clear, dark skies - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Stargazer: For a change: Clear, dark skies

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Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 4:27 pm

Clear, dark skies, and brilliant stars; what a great combination! As I stepped out into the front yard last Saturday evening about 10:30 p.m. it was easy to spot the Summer Triangle high in the sky, directly overhead. All clouds were gone and the clear deep sapphire blue background really set off these now-familiar gems. The brightest stars of the Summer Triangle, Vega, Deneb, and Altair have become almost a chant; but perhaps it is only a football cheer.

As the Earth continues its trek around the sun, you may have noticed that the days are getting shorter. Later in the month, the time of the autumnal equinox, marking equal hours of daylight and nighttime, will usher in the South Texas version of fall. The now-familiar summer constellations will continue inexorably westward, and the old friends of the next season will begin to appear earlier in the evening.

Those of you who enjoy early rising, or who must get up before dawn, have already had the pleasure of their company for a few weeks now. Predawn constellations include the delicate pattern of the Pleiades near the zenith, with Taurus’ V shape behind, followed by mighty Orion, wearing his three-star belt to hold his sword and keep it ready for battle.

But for those of us who are night owls, and prefer our stargazing before we go to sleep, there is the Great Square of Pegasus racing from east to south to west throughout the night. If you are outside about eleven o’clock, try to spot the baseball diamond-shape of Pegasus, the Winged Horse of legend. Extending out from one corner is a crooked V shape, which is Andromeda, the sacrificial Princess who is rescued in the nick of time by the Greek hero, Perseus. To locate this spectacular array, first look for the W shape of Queen Cassiopeia. The bent V shape of stars that mark her daughter, Andromeda lies to the east of the W. The Pegasus square is above and attached to Andromeda. Perseus lies well below the open end of Andromeda and is a string of two branches of stars one end of which is near the Pleiades cluster. The darker your viewing area, the more likely you will see the patterns mentioned. Light pollution washes out all but the brightest objects.

One interesting astronomy project you might want to do is to keep watching the western sky just at sunset to spy Venus emerging from the Sun’s glare and become our Evening Star. This might be a science fair project you could begin in plenty of time to have data ready for your district science fair. Of course, the changing distance between Saturn and Jupiter or the location of the moon during a month would also be a great family affair that would engage all but the most uninterested person.

It has been quite a while since we posted the “clock-face” positions of the planets. Here is an update. Imagine you are far above our solar system, observing it as the face of an analog clock, and only using the hour hand location as it points to a numeral. Mercury is first, at the numeral 8, Venus at 8:30, Earth at 3:15 -ish, and Mars at 9:30. Jupiter is 6:15, Saturn at 5:30; Uranus (YOUR-a nus) at 2, and Neptune at 3:15. Thoroughly confused? Check out Sky & Telescope magazine for this month to clarify it; make a sketch or check out this YouTube link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8aBZZnv6y8 

Until next week, do keep looking up.

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Having a pet is a lot of responsibility, and we’ll help by giving you lots of tips and tricks! More >>

Fitness

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Our fitness articles will help teach you how to work out with gym- and home-based exercises. More >>

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Enjoy the crosswords challenge in our free daily puzzles, from the harder Sunday crossword to the quicker daily. More >>

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