Huestis: September Stargazing
Sunday, September 03, 2017
David Huestis, GoLocalWorcester Astronomy Expert
Amateur astronomers and casual stargazers look forward to the month of September. Here in Southern New England the hazy, hot and humid days of summer are mostly behind us. With humidity levels much lower the skies become more transparent. Combine those conditions with earlier sunset times, and the nighttime heavens can be explored at a reasonable time in the evening. Let’s examine a few objects that can be observed with either your unaided eyes, binoculars, or a telescope. And if you don’t have a telescope to explore some of these in greater detail, then visit one of the local observatories and ask the volunteer telescope operators to acquire your favorite.
At the beginning of September Jupiter will be very low in the west after sunset. You’ll need an unobstructed view of the horizon to observe this Jovian world. Jupiter will soon be too close to the Sun in the sky to be seen. Beautiful Saturn will be visible through the end of October, depending on one’s view of the west south-west horizon. Its ring system is wide open, tilted 27 degrees. Crank up the magnification and marvel at the spectacle before you. On nights of steady seeing, the kids who visit Seagrave Observatory or Ladd Observatory often exclaim “cool” or “awesome,” followed by “it looks like a sticker.”
In addition, this month would be a good time to catch a glimpse of the most distant planets in our solar system. Well, two planets and one dwarf planet. Since the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status in 2006, those planets now are Uranus and Neptune. These gas giants look like little blue-green disks through a telescope. You won’t see any detail, but you can boast of catching a glimpse of these distant worlds.
Unless you know specifically where to look, these distant bodies can be difficult to locate. Finder charts can be accessed on the internet. While Uranus can be seen in a dark moon-less sky with the naked-eye, Neptune requires at least binoculars to find. Both planets reveal a blue-green disk under medium- to high magnification. A fairly large computer-controlled telescope is required to locate Pluto. This dwarf-planet will look like one of the many faint stars occupying the same field of view. Assuming the computer correctly positioned the telescope, Pluto will be one of those points of light you can see through the eyepiece. Computer-assisted telescopes at the local observatories can guarantee your sighting of these far away worlds.
On September 5 the distances in miles these three objects will be from the Earth and the constellations in which they can be found are as follows: Uranus (1,784,000,000 in Pisces), Neptune (2,690,000,000 at 1:13am closest to the Earth for 2017 in Aquarius) and Pluto (3,051,000,000 in Sagittarius).
If you wish to get a good look at our own Milky Way galaxy soon after twilight fades, then the month of September provides a continued opportunity. From many light-polluted locations in Rhode Island our “island universe” may only appear as a milky patch of light spanning the sky from north to south. (That is, if it is visible at all.) Some casual stargazers may mistake this glow as thin cirrus clouds. However, it is really the light from some of the 400 billion stars of our Milky Way galaxy.
From a really dark sky location, like that found at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, one can still observe the spender of the Milky Way as it stretches from the constellation Perseus towards the southern horizon. A pair of binoculars will show beautiful clusters of stars within its boundaries. And if you have a small telescope, just scan up and down the Milky Way’s length with a wide-field eyepiece. You’ll be rewarded with many fine views of dense star fields.
In the region of the constellation of Cygnus the swan (also known as the Northern Cross), the Milky Way divides into two bands, separated by obscuring dust called the Great Rift. Take a look with binoculars to start and scan this area. It is a very beautiful region of space. If you have a telescope of any size, don’t hesitate to sweep this area. Farther along one can find a wide variety of star clusters and nebulae.
In the constellation of Scutum we come to a star cloud of the same name. In a dark sky, your eye will see a much greater expanse of milky haze. This eastern band is one of the brightest in the Milky Way because there is no intervening dust and gas to block our view of the stars. Astronomer E.E. Barnard (1857-1923) wrote, “the stars pile up in great cumulus masses like summer clouds.” A prominent open cluster known as the Wild Duck Nebula can be found here. You can spend many hours exploring the riches of our galaxy.
Did you know that an observer in a relatively dark sky can see another galaxy with just the naked eye? After sunset look towards the northeast sky for the constellation of Andromeda. At the top of a chain of fairly bright stars you will notice an elongated fuzzy path of light. This object is the Great Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way. It is a barred spiral like the Milky Way, containing about 400 billion stars. Recent measurements indicate it is 2.5 million light years distant. A pair of 7 X 50 binoculars will reveal a little more of its elongated shape.
Telescopes of increasing aperture will reveal more of the structure of our galactic neighbor. Telescopes at Seagrave and Frosty Drew observatories actually reveal the spiral arms and dust lanes. The view is quite impressive. If clear skies prevail during the open nights at the local observatories, ask one of the volunteer sky interpreters to show you the Great Andromeda Galaxy.
Keep your eyes to the skies.
David A. Huestis
The Changing of the Leaves
One of the cool things about the fall season is the leaves on the trees and the colors that they change too.
According to smokeymountain.com, prime foliage season in New England is late September into early October.
Look forward to an enjoyable walk around the neighborhood and see how many different colors you can pick out, or just enjoy the beauty.
The fall season signifies the return of pumpkins. Pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie and most of all pumpkin picking.
Pumpkin picking is a timeless event for families, especially those with young kids who will love to just run around and grab whichever pumpkin looks good to them.
The Big E
The Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts features a circus spectacular, Mardi Gras parade, agricultural competitions, arts & crafts, food contests, live music, and midway.
The Big runs from September 15 to October 1.
Great Pumpkin Festival
The Great Pumpkin Festival at the EcoTarium in Worcester is a must attend this fall in New England.
The event features more than 1000 carved pumpkins, live entertainment, family fun with trick-or-treating, displays and more.
Sam Adams Octoberfest Beer
One of the fun things about the changing of seasons is the changing of beer flavors and with fall comes Sam Adams Octoberfest.
The Oktoberfest idea was born in 1810 when Munich celebrated the Crown Prince's wedding with a 16-day party with a special beer.
Sam Adams builds off of that idea with a beer that is perfect for the season.
Phantom Gourmet Food Festival
The Phantom Gourmet Food Festival is an event to look forward too and it will be held on September 12 from 12- 4 p.m. on two streets next to Fenway Park.
Tickets are $40 in advance and online and will go up to $50 at the event.
The ticket includes sampling 100 of Phantom's foods from hot dogs and pizza to pulled pork and more. Beer and wine will be served on the street.
Get more information here.
The New England Patriots Return
The NFL returns and that means the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots are back.
The Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls and are heavily favored to win another this season.
The Patriots kick off their season on Thursday, September 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
A great fall family event, especially those with young kids, is apple picking.
Nothing more fun than grabbing the nicest looking apple that you can find, giving it a quick wash off and then biting into it. Delicious.
Columbus Day Festival on Federal Hill
Filled with great music and even better food, the Columbus Day Festival is a fall event to look forward to every season.
The feast will take place from October 7 through October 9.
Fall Boat Ride to Block Island
Though the summer weather is winding down, there is still great weather coming and great opportunities to get on the ferry and head over to Block Island for the day, or maybe even multiple days.
Fall trips to Block Island are something to look forward too.
Click here for more information.
For those nights, or days, where it's just a bit cooler out, there is nothing more comfortable than throwing on a fleece jacket and settling in for a fun day ahead.
The arrival of fall means it's time to start breaking those jackets out.
Drinking Apple Cider
Can't you already taste it? The sweet taste of apple cider returns with the fall season.
Head over to your local market and buy some, or maybe you know how to make your own or have your own recipe. Either way, drinking apple cider is something to look forward too.
Attend Waterfire in Providence
Summer may be nearing the end, but Waterfire
Waterfire is the premiere event in Providence and if you haven't gotten to one yet during the summer or fall season, now is the time to plan.
Waterfire is a great night out with different vendors, music and other entertainment lining the city streets while the river is lit up by the fire. For a really romantic and fun night, hop on a gondola ride.
The Return of Your Favorite TV Shows
One of the down sides of summer is that there is very little to watch on TV as far as new shows go. Thank goodness for Netflix and or HBO on demand.
However, the return of the fall season means the return of all the popular TV shows like Gotham, Game of Thrones, Arrow and several others.
Look forward to having something to watch at night after a long day at work.
Who's not looking forward to Halloween? Not looking forward to dressing up as your favorite character or as just a very spooky looking person and going out and collecting candy to last you days, months and longer.
Who isn't looking to forward to decorating their houses to make it the creepiest house on the block.
Halloween is great for kids and adults alike and is certainly something to look forward to.
Great Golf Weather Remaining
The end of Summer does not mean the end of golf season.
The fall is a great time of year for golfing at Harbor Lights or any of the courses across the state.
The fall offers some of the best golfing weather of the year, not too hot and not too cold.
Golf season has not left.
Harpoon Brewery Oktoberfest in Boston
Harpoon Brewery will hold their 27th annual Octoberfest from September 29 through September 30.
The event will feature Harpoon brews, bratwursts, chicken dancing and German chocolate cake eating contests as well as Oompah music.
Harpoon Brewery is located at 306 Northern Ave in Boston.
Click here for more information or for tickets.
Roger Waters at TD Garden
One of the musical highlights of the fall season is rock n' roll legend Roger Waters coming to Boston's TD Garden.
The former Pink Floyd star will play two shows in Boston, the first on Wednesday, September 27 and the second on Thursday, September 28.
King Richards Faire
Dive into history at King Richard's Faire, New England's oldest and largest Renaissance Festival and most beloved annual fall event. Dress up, play games and learn a lot at a fair that is a great fall event for the entire family.
The Fair runs from September 2 through October 22.
Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo
What better way to spend a fall evening than strolling through Roger Williams Park Zoo and viewing some cool Jack-O-Lanterns.
The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park is a Rhode Island and New England Fall staple featuring thousands of illuminated pumpkins from October 5 to November 5 with admission from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.