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Sonoma County Gazette
Night Sky by Tre Gibbs

The Night Sky

Sep 27, 2017
by Tre Gibbs


Saturn is preparing to engage in a temporary farewell as the ringed giant continues it’s gradual and apparent slip westward into the sun’s glare. Though Saturn won’t actually slip behind the sun until mid December, it will get more difficult to view as the weeks and months continue. Look for Saturn directly to the left of the thin waxing crescent moon on the night of the 23rd. The next time the moon pairs up with Saturn (November 20th), both will be so low on the horizon that you might not be able to see them.

Saturn is currently the only visible planet in our evening sky, so if you want to see more planets, you’re going to have to get up rather early and look to the east prior to sunrise. Early in the month – on the 4th, around 6:00 am – Mars sits right under brilliant Venus due east, both just above the horizon. Mid month – on the 15th – look again due east around 6:00 am and you’ll not only see that the waning crescent moon has joined both Mars andVenus, but Venus now sits below Mars, continuing her descent towards the sun, eventually making a return to our evening skies, visible to the unaided eye by early Spring. Jupiter and Mercury are currently lost in the sun’s glare, but they will wander back into our visible skies soon enough.

October’s full moon appears early this month. Look for the “Full Hunter’s Moon” rising in the east just after sunset on the 5th. The name originates from when our ancestors knew that this was the time of year when leaves fall and wild game is fattened, signaling them to begin laying a store of provisions for the long cold winter ahead.

Fun Facts: 

PolarisThe North Star – is NOT the brightest star in the sky, not by a long shot. The only reason the North Star is “special” is because it stays in the same spot in the sky. Polaris is directly over Earth’s North Pole, so as Earth turns on it’s axis, all of the stars appear to spin around it, making Polaris a very useful tool for navigating – like having a giant compass in the sky.

Our word “month” comes from “moon”, since the Moon orbits our planet about every 28 days. Moving eastward, the Moon rises about 50 minutes later each night (or day), until it’s right back where it was in the sky almost a month later.

The word “planet” is derived from “planeta”, a Latin based term meaning “wander”. Ancient astronomers noticed seven visible lights that “wander” through the sky; the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – which is why we have seven days of the week. If you know some of the Latin based languages, you can easily figure out which planet represents which day…

Saturn’s glorious ring system is made up almost entirely of water ice….the same stuff that’s in your freezer.

This one is my favorite: Venus, The Goddess Of Love and Beauty, spins on it’s axis so incredibly slowly that it actually completes one orbit around the sun before it completes one rotation on it’s axis, which means that Venus’ day is LONGER than it’s year!

Enjoy this Autumn season and remember, keep looking up!


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