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September Skies Of The Gulf Coast

Dani Trotman
UWF Science Education major Dani Trotman caught a Perseid Meteor at the Pavilion Gaze on August 13.

For September 2021, the moon is waning crescent in the first week, reaching new on September 6. The waxing crescent lies to the upper right of Venus in evening sky on September 9. It is first quarter on September 13. The waxing gibbous moon passes below Saturn on September 16, then below brighter Jupiter on September 17. The full Harvest Moon is on September 20. The Autumnal Equinox begins fall on September 22 at 2:21p.m. CST. The moon is last quarter on September 28.

While the naked eye, dark adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects. Visit skymaps.com for a more extensive calendar.

Around October 20, Halley’s Comet debris strikes us with the Orionid Meteor Shower, and about November 17, the Leonid Meteor shower peaks. Then about December 14, we get the Geminid display, usually the best of the year.

Mercury is out of view, too close to the Sun in September. Venus dominates the evening sky in the southwest, passing just above Spica on September 5. Mars too lies behind the Sun this month. Jupiter and Saturn put on a fine show in the southeast at sunset. Jupiter features its four Galilean moons in small scopes, all in a row around its equator, and its Great Red Spot is still active. At dusk, fainter Saturn lies due south, just west of Jupiter, and rings are tilted widely open for great telescopic views now. Its large and fascinating moon Titan is also easily need in small scopes.

From the Dipper’s handle, we “arc” southeast to bright orange Arcturus, the brightest star of Spring. Spike south to Spica, the hot blue star in Virgo. Brilliant Venus passes above Spica on September 5. Note that Spica is now low in the southwest, and by September’s end, will be lost in the Sun’s glare due to our annual revolution of the Sun making it appear to move one degree per day eastward.

To the Greeks, Spica and Virgo were associated with Persephone, the daughter of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. In their version of “Judge Judy”, the beautiful young daughter falls for the gruff, dark god of the underworld, Pluto. He elopes with her, much to the disapproval of mother Ceres, and they marry in his underworld kingdom of Hades — a honeymoon in hell — really, he does love her as well, and the marriage itself works well. But it is the reaction of Ceres that creates alarm. Very despondent over the loss of her young daughter to a fate as bad as death, Ceres abandons the crops, which wither. Soon famine sets in, and humanity appeals to Jupiter to save us all. Calling all together, Jupiter hears that Ceres wants the marriage annulled, Persephone loves them both, and Pluto wants his mother-in-law to stop meddling. Solomon style, Jupiter decides to split her up, not literally, but in terms of time. In the compromise (aren’t all marriages so?), when you can see Spica rising in the east in March, it means to plant your peas. For the next six months, she visits upstairs with as very happy mama, and the crops will prosper. But now, as Spica heads west (to the kingdom of death, in most ancient legends) for six months of conjugal bliss with Pluto, it is time to get your corn in the crib. This simple story, told in some form for as long as Noah’s flood, was one of the ways our ancestors 7,000 years ago knew the solar calendar and when to plant and harvest. As you watch Spica fade, thank this star for agriculture, and even our own civilization.

To the south, Antares marks the heart of Scorpius. It appears reddish (its Greek name means rival of Ares or Mars to the Romans) because it is half as hot as our yellow Sun; it is bright because it is a bloated red supergiant, big enough to swallow up our solar system all the way out to Saturn’s orbit. Near the tail of the Scorpion are two fine open clusters, faintly visible to the naked eye, and spectacular in binoculars. The clusters lie to the upper left of the bright double star that marks the stinger in the Scorpion’s tail. The brighter, M-7, is also known as Ptolemy’s Cluster, since he included it in his star catalog about 200 AD. Note both show up well in Dani Trotman’s feature photo for the month.

East of the Scorpion’s tail is the teapot shape of Sagittarius, which marks the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. Looking like a cloud of steam coming out of the teapot’s spout is the fine Lagoon Nebula, M-8, easily visible with the naked eye.

The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega dominates the northeast sky. Binoculars reveal the small star just to the northeast of Vega, epsilon Lyrae, as a nice double. Larger telescopes at 150X reveal each of this pair is another close double, hence its nickname, “The Double Double”. This is fine sight under steady seeing conditions over 150X with scopes 4” or larger. Between the two bottom stars; the Ring Nebula, marked “M-57” on the Skymap, is a smoke ring of gas and dust expelled by a dying red giant star while its core collapsed to a white dwarf. A similar fate is expected for our own sun in perhaps five billion more years.

To the northeast of Vega is Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus the Swan. At the other end of the “northern Cross” that makes up the body of Cygnus is Albireo, the finest and most colorful double star in the sky. Its orange and blue members are well resolved at 20X by any small scope. To the south is Altair, the brightest star of Aquila the Eagle, the third member of the three bright stars that make the Summer Triangle so obvious in the northeast these clear September evenings. Binoculars should be taken to the deep sky gazes to sweep the rich portion of the Galaxy now best placed overhead in this area.

The EAAA can again schedule public gazes at the Pensacola Beach Pavilion. We will set up on the weekends of the first quarter moon. We will hand out free star charts, show off a variety of telescopes in all size and price ranges, help you learn to us your own new scope or binoculars or smartphone for astrophotography, and teach you the brighter constellations with our green laser pointers. With clear skies permitting, we plan to be south of the famed Beach Ball Water Tower on September 10 & 11 and October 15 & 16, 2021.

We have set new dates for our public gazes at Big Lagoon State Park west of Pensacola for September 25. Be sure to check in at the gate before sunset.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit eaaa.net or join us on Facebook. All EAAA events are free and open to the public.

Dr. John Wayne Wooten has been teaching science since 1970, with a special concentration on astronomy. He received his Doctor of Education in Astronomy from University of Florida in 1979. He was an educator at Pensacola State College since 1974 and University of West Florida since 1984 before retiring in 2017. He still continues to teach distance learning astronomy for Tennessee colleges.