Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: Sept. 28 – Oct. 4

Stock image, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH — The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is available online. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

The full moon on Thursday (at 3:05 p.m. for those who need precision) is the harvest moon, so called because its light helped farmers harvest their fields into the night, especially important before tractors had headlights. The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox (discussed in last week’s Sky Report), which fell on Sept. 22.

On average, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each night, but the harvest moon rises only about 25 minutes later at the latitude of Kanab and only 15 minutes later at the latitude of London, so it seems as if we have a full moon rising at almost the same time shortly after sunset several nights in a row. Find more information from EarthSky here.

The very bright object that is one-third of the way up the southern sky at 8 p.m. is the giant planet Jupiter. Jupiter doesn’t change its brightness month to month or year to year, and neither does Saturn, which is immediately to the left and is as bright as a bright star. Their distance from Earth never changes by a significant amount.

Mars rises due east at 8 p.m., and it does change its brightness by a great amount month to month. Typically it’s fairly distant and comparable to Saturn in brightness, but when it comes close to Earth, as it does every 26 months, it briefly outshines Jupiter by a small amount for about a month. In October, the Earth catches and passes Mars, and Mars is especially close and bright. You’ll read about it widely in the news media – and of course, right here.

The bright nearly-harvest moon passes 1 1/2 degrees from Mars on Friday. That’s less than the width of a finger held at arm’s length, so mark your calendar and be sure to see it.

Venus is brilliant as the “morning star” in the east from about 4:30 a.m. until sunrise. The bright star Regulus is a scant half a degree from Venus on the mornings of Friday and Saturday, switching from one side to the other in that one day. Of course, Venus is the one doing the moving. Regulus is one of the brightest stars but even so, Venus outshines it by 40 times. The winter constellations Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Canis Major and others are above and to the right of Venus.

Written by JOHN MOSLEY. John Mosley was program supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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