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August 19, 2010     Tri-County News
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August 19, 2010
 

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Thursday, August 19, 2010 t Tri-County News Kimball, MN :~:i~i~~!~;~::'~,~ ~,~,~ ~ September Starwatch By Deane Morrison, U of M The darker, clearer skies of Sep- tember mean good viewing con- ditions for Pisces, Aquarius and other watery autumn constella- tions as they flow into the eve- ning sky from the east. In addi- tion, Jupiter, the sun and the moon all lay claim to special attention this year. First up is a close call with Jupi- ter. On the 21st, Earth passes the giant planet in the race around the sun, an event we call opposition because it places a planet directly opposite the sun in the sky. On that day Earth swings within 367.5 million miles of Jupi- ter. Although that's one of the closest approaches our two plan- ets ever make, it's still nearly four times the distance from Earth to the sun. At opposition, Jupiter will shine brilliantly in the southern sky, an unmistakable beacon just beneath the circle of stars called the Circlet of Pisces, which itself lies below the Great Square of Peg- asus. A bright moon will compete with Jupiter's glory for several days around opposition, but the planet will be at near-maximum bright- ness most of the month. This September, we also get an excellent chance to find Ura- nus, thanks to its proximity to Jupiter. When no moon is up, use good, steady binoculars or a small telescope to search for a tiny spot within a degree above Jupiter. If your eyes are sharp, you may be able to make out the planet's blu- ish tinge. The seventh planet from the sun, Uranus follows an orbit that takes it as far as 1.8 billion miles from its parent star - 20 times as far as Earth's distance from the sun. Nothing strange about that, but Uranus has one bizarre dis- tinction. Its axis of rotation is tilted nearly to the plane of its orbit, leav- ing the planet to rotate on its side like a gigantic rolling ball. A lead- ing theory for how this came about holds that early in its history, Ura- nus collided with a planet-sized body that knocked it over. It's a good thing Earth's tilt is nowhere near so extreme; if it were, the seasonal changes we experience would be drastic indeed. Next in the spotlight comes the sun, via the autumnal equinox. It happens at 10:09 p.m. on Sept. 22, when the sun crosses the equator on its way into the southern sky. At that moment an observer in space would see Earth lighted from pole to pole, and day and night are equal. The shift in daylight at the equi- noxes may have implications for travelers. Since the March equi- nox, travelers going north have encountered progressively longer periods of daylight. After the Sep- tember equinox, however, the far- ther north you go, the shorter the days. In the Southern Hemisphere, the pattern is reversed. Rounding out our triad of special events, the harvest moon arrives officially at 4:17 a.m. on Sept. 23. The harvest moon is traditionally the full moon closest to the fall equinox, and this year the two events miss each other by a whisker - barely six hours. If you want to see this iconic moon at its best, get out early that morning, since the moon will set shortly after 7 a.m. (exact times vary with location). Venus, now a downwardly mobile planet, spends the month sinking into the sunset. But don't write it off just yet; Sept. 11 Venus and a young moon make a pretty pair, the last such spectacle before the planet disappears on its next sweep between Earth and the sun. As darkness falls, the first three stars to come out will be the Sum- mer Triangle, consisting of Deneb at the northeast point, Vega at the northwest and Altair at the south. All are the brightest stars in their constellations: Deneb in Cyg- nus, the swan, which contains the Northern Cross; Vega in Lyra, the lyre; and Altair in Aquila, the eagle. You can find a somewhat dim but very pleasing pattern of stars by sighting with binoculars along an imaginary line from Altair to Vega. About a third of the way to Vega you'll see 10 stars in the shape of an upside-down coathanger. The Coathanger is an asterism, a group of stars that aren't a con- stellation. The Summer Triangle is itself an asterism; other famous ones include the Big Dipper in Ursa Major, the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor and the Great Square of Pegasus. Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy at < www.astro.umn.edu>. r m m mm i m Page 23 Always something to read for everTonel Si:gnm:t m P.O. Box 55353-0 0 I / i H i ,il J We proudly cover the Tri.County area of Stearns, Meeker de Wright Counties, TASTEFULL't $iMPL Tos~efulty Simpl~, the r~fion's ~gir~} home taste-f~ company, offers o wide varieh/of delicious. easy-to-prepare foods that you and Contact me for information on C0 3 ,r local people, local stories bcal life. Di 'cover our conmuni through the