AMAZING PLANETS RISING by William J. Bechaver

If you intend to be a planetary observer these days, you have to be an early riser. Most of the visible planets are only observable in the early morning hours, rising before the Sun.

The only planet viewable in the evening sky is Saturn, and it sets shortly after sunset. It is low in the south-west, and relatively unremarkable right now, being on the far side of the sun, and nearly ten times more distant.

This month, we are being treated to a beautiful grouping of the brightest planets in the sky. Such a grouping is called a conjunction. Go out every morning, well before sunrise, at least by 6:30. By that time, most of the fainter stars will be fading from view, as the planets are climbing far in advance of the Sun. High in the sky, it will be easy to spot Venus in the east. Just below her, you will see Jupiter, and nearby, just below, the much fainter Mars. For the next week, Venus will descend in the sky, each morning appearing closer to the fainter pair, until next Wednesday 28 October, the three will be an impressive trio of planetary wonders together. All the while, Mars will slowly be moving a little further from Jupiter, seemingly allowing room for Venus to join the group.

Get out and view them on any or every morning for the next week, for the grouping will be an opportunity to view a relatively rare occurrence. The last grouping of these, the brightest three, this closely together, occurred way back in June of 1991. And the party’s not over, there will be more guests to arrive in the weeks to come.

Well, it’s been over three months now since the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto. New Horizons has traveled an amazing 108 million miles into deep space beyond Pluto. Now we have learned it has its next fly-by target in sight! But it won’t arrive there for a couple more years.

Thanks for your interest in astronomy and our featured columns! If you have any article requests or questions, contact Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE] at spacescape@rocketmail.com for comments, suggestions, or inquiries about scientific information, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for current updates or additional viewing opportunities.

William J. Bechaver is the Director of SPACE – Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE], the premier Astronomical Society in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

ORION METEORS AMAZE by William J. Bechaver

This year, we will have a supreme opportunity to go out and enjoy the Orionid Meteor Shower. All the stars are aligned to promise a wonderful viewing.

The best autumn meteor shower peaks on the night of Wednesday 21 October and the peak continues on into the early morning hours of Thursday. The moon will be just past the quarter phase that night, which means it will set right around midnight, giving us extremely dark skies after that. And with Orion rising high into our southwest skies, the stage will be set for an amazing show!

Go out any time that evening, for the moon will already be sinking low to the west, far out of the realm for any significant light interference. Look to the east, or south east, and see how many of the fast-moving meteors you can spot.

Orion will be rising over the eastern horizon just as the moon is setting in the west. The Orionid meteor shower seems to radiate from the area of space that would be the Club of Orion the Hunter.

The origin of these spectacular meteors is the famous Haley’s Comet. When the Earth passes through the particles left behind by the comet’s passing back in 1986, they burn up in our atmosphere, creating brilliant meteors. Scientists are predicting about one brilliant meteor every four minutes or so, but the shower definitely has the potential for many more than that, with bursts of more than one a minute. 

As with all meteor showers, the later you go out at night, the better are your chances for seeing multiple meteors a minute, as the Earth rotates into its orbit later in the evening, increasing the opportunity to see more meteors the later it gets. 

The only thing that can’t be predicted this far in advance is the weather. So, you may want to go out a couple nights earlier, if it’s clear, and catch a few of the earlier arrivals. Of course, the same is true a few nights later, as you can go out and catch spectacular stragglers. The nights following, the moon will set later, and be brighter, so you may want to also consider the effect the additional light will present if you wait later in the week.

Whatever you choose, this year’s Orionid Meteor Shower should present us with an opportunity to view spectacular meteors on clear, dark nights, with warmer than usual autumn evenings. 

Well, it’s been three months now since the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto. In the short time it takes the passing of a season on Earth, New Horizons has traveled an amazing 101 million miles into deep space beyond Pluto. That’s like traveling to the moon over 400 times in three months, or more than two round-trips to the moon every day, with plenty of time to spare for a layover!

Thanks for your interest in astronomy and our featured articles! If you have any article requests or questions, contact Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE], the premier astronomical society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico! We can be found at spacescape@rocketmail.com for inquiries about scientific information, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for current updates or additional viewing opportunities.

ASTRONOMY BRIEF – LUNAR CONJUNCTION by William J. Bechaver

This week, let us focus upon, and explore a little, our nearest neighbor in space, Earth’s own satellite, The Moon. It can prove to be an excellent guide as it moves through the sky night by night.

This week, on the early morning of Friday 9 October, go outside by 6 o’clock and look to the east. The Moon will be a fine crescent in the predawn sky, and it will lie very near two points of light. The brighter is Jupiter. The fainter just above the giant planet is Mars. It proves to be a beautiful grouping to start your day. Shining brightly high above the amazing conjunction is brilliant Venus. Just the day before, as we explored last week, the moon appeared very close to Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor. So, judging by that, you can gauge the distance the moon moves across the sky in a single day, just about twelve degrees.

The New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto back in mid-July. This week, it has traveled more than 93.5 million miles past the planetoid as it continues its journey deeper into space. That is further than our distance to the Sun! Scientists have now chosen the next target for the spacecraft to explore. It is a Kuiper Belt Object, and the tiny spacecraft will have to travel yet another billion miles to reach it. We’ll get more details when we get a little closer.

Thanks for your interest in astronomy and our featured articles! If you have any article requests or questions, contact Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE] at spacescape@rocketmail.com for inquiries about scientific information, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for current updates or additional viewing opportunities.

VENUS AND LUNAR ECLIPSE DAZZLES by William J. Bechaver

This week, on the early morning of Thursday 8 October, go outside by 6 o’clock and look to the east. The Moon will be a fine crescent in the predawn sky, and it will lie less than one degree from the brilliant jewel in the morning sky that is the planet Venus. Look just below the pair, and you will see two other distinct points of light. The brighter is Jupiter. The fainter just above the giant planet is Mars. We will keep an eye on these players this month, as they provide some excellent viewing opportunities for us throughout October.

This week, let us focus upon, and explore a little, our nearest neighbor in space, Earth’s own satellite, The Moon.

Last weekend, observers the world over were dazzled by the beauty of the total Lunar Eclipse. It seemed to be extra spectacular because the Moon was at a position in its orbit known as perigee, when the Moon is closest to the Earth, a condition recently referred to as a Super Moon.

During the course of the eclipse, when it was in totality, the moon displayed a distinctive red hue. The redness displayed on the moon is a fascinating phenomena, one which actually originates on earth. 

When the Sun is low on the horizon, the light passes through a thicker layer of clouds. As the light is more greatly refracted, it becomes red. That is why during a sunrise or sunset, when there are adequate clouds at an appropriate elevation, they appear red. 

This same phenomenon of refraction is also responsible for the reddish hue of the Moon during a total lunar eclipse. The light passes through the atmosphere of the Earth, shining on the face of the Moon, tinging it a distinctive red color. What we are seeing is the refracted light of all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth at that moment, reflected off the surface of the Moon, which is mostly darkened because it lies in Earth’s shadow.

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Recently, the term “Blood Moon” has come into common use to describe such a condition. But the term is not new. In fact, it is very ancient. The Druids often referred to a blood moon when talking about a total eclipse. Then, they considered that a total eclipse was a portent to war, or violence. Blood on the darkened moon, when the moon should be full, could not be a good omen.

In Biblical times, eclipses are referred to, also most prominently as prophesies of doom. The sun growing dark and the moon turning to blood were supposed to indicate the end of the world.

Of course, since those ancient times, the peoples of Earth have witnessed countless lunar and solar eclipses, always with a sense of dread, until science revealed that the Earth was indeed not the center of the solar system, that it traveled around the Sun, and that the Moon alone traveled around the Earth. With an adequate model of how the system works, it was possible to accurately predict eclipses, understand them for the celestial wonders that they are, and dispel the mystery of the vanishing Sun and Moon, and all the superstitions that went along with the mysteries.

This month, you may also hear the term “Blood Moon” applied to the full moon. The full moon in October will be The Hunter’s Moon, the full moon that follows September’s Harvest Moon. Druids also noticed that it had a reddish hue as it would rise and set. But that was a good omen of great fortune, The Hunter’s Moon being red indicating that it would be a successful and prosperous hunt.

The New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto back in mid-July. This week, it has traveled an astounding 86 million miles past the planetoid as it continues its journey deeper into space.

Thanks for following our astronomy articles. For further questions and comments, contact us directly at spacescape@rocketmail.com. We are SPACE – Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the astronomical society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.