EYES TO THE SKY: New season, new moon – crescent moon cues the planets

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By Monday, Sep 18 Learning
Peter A. Blacksberg
The Berkshire night sky as photographed from the campus of the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington on Sept. 1, 2016, at 9:04 p.m.

Mount Washington — The season began to change slowly then picked up speed; darkness falls early. Summer’s longest days and shortest nights have edged to equal daylight and darkness. The Autumnal Equinox occurs on Friday the 22nd at 4 p.m. Sunrise and sunset times are close to 12 hours apart for the rest of the month. From Sept. 1 through early November, at three-week intervals, another hour of darkness is accumulated. Then the pace slows as the northern hemisphere moves toward the Winter Solstice.

Now that darkness is overtaking our morning hours and falls earlier in the evening, with just the effort of looking up, we may begin and end the day musing on heavenly lights: Planets, stars, the changing phases of the moon and an occasional fireball!

This morning, and about half an hour before sunrise into October, seek out planet Venus, the brilliant Morning Star. As described in a recent “Eyes to the Sky” column, a bigger reward may be had about an hour before sunup this morning when the sky is dark enough to see Venus in the company of the last waning crescent moon and planets Mercury and Mars, all in a line above the eastern horizon. Although the moon will be gone – New Moon is at 1:30 a.m. on the 20th – this celestial line-up is visible for the rest of the week, after which Mercury drops into the sun’s glare. Bring binoculars.

Get up before sunrise on Wednesday the 20th to see the close coupling of the planet Venus and the star Regulus.

Today, the 18th, sunrise is at 6:36 a.m.; sunset is at 6:59 p.m. On Oct. 1, sunrise is at 6:50 a.m. and sunset is at 6:36 p.m.

For evening stargazers, following sundown, spot Jupiter close to the west-southwest skyline. Tonight, Jupiter sets about an hour and a quarter after the sun. On Oct. 1, the planet sets 50 minutes after sunset. As September turns to October, bid farewell to Jupiter. Turn to the left, to the south-southwest, where Antares, the red heart star of Scorpius the Scorpion, shines as twilight deepens. Planet Saturn is the bright, star-like object above and to the left of Antares. Catch the summertime Scorpion stretched from south to southwest within an hour and a half of sunset, and bid a fond farewell.

In his photographer’s statement, Peter Blacksberg describes how, in his photograph taken in Great Barrington, we see a sky full of stars and the Milky Way just as it shows up in images from wilderness areas:

“Recent developments in camera sensors allow capture of low light images, with less noise. At this writing, Nikon D5 used for this photograph has one of the lowest ‘noise’ levels available. The ‘ISO’ setting was 3200 with a 20 second exposure at f2.8 (Nikkor 14mm-24 zoom set to 14mm). Image is stored as RAW. Once captured, image was modified in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) by sharpening, and changing ‘curves’ to better display the Milky Way. Foreground light is a single light bulb on an outdoor light pole. Note length of exposure captures movement of aircraft as a line.”

 


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