Friday, 02 December 2022

Lake County Skies: The stars of September

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Lake County has some of the clearest, darkest skies in the country – perfect for stargazing! In this monthly column, we’ll talk about some of the things you can see during September nights.


Let’s start by looking at a star chart for September. The chart above is what the night sky will look like around Sept. 15 at around 9 p.m.


If you recall from last month, we mentioned the “Summer Triangle” made up of the bright stars Vega (in the constellation Lyra), Deneb (in the constellation Cygnus) and Altair (in the constellation Altair). This month, this trio of luminaries has moved directly overhead – you can see them in the star chart.


There are also four planets visible this month. Jupiter, the largest of the planets, is setting in the western sky – it’s the brightest object in that direction.


Next to Jupiter is Pluto, the “un-planet.” Up until the fall of 2006, Pluto was considered to be a planet. But this changed when the definition of the term “planet” changed, and Pluto was relegated to “dwarf planet” status. In spite of this change, we still affectionately refer to Pluto as a planet. As for viewing Pluto, you need a very large, powerful telescope, and even then, it will only appear as a faint point of light.

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Pluto courtesy of NASA.


The other two visible planets are Neptune and Uranus. Both need a telescope to see. Neptune is bluish in color, and Uranus is greenish. Both appear very small through a telescope. Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus are what we term “gas giants.” They are huge balls of gas – they aren’t solid like our earth.

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Neptune courtesy of www.spacetoday.org.


Uranus has a ring system similar to Saturn’s. Neptune has a beautiful blue tinted atmosphere. That beautiful color isn’t from water – it’s from methane gas, the kind of stuff cows produce (and no, there are no cattle ranches on Neptune!).

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Uranus courtesy of NASA/Marshal Space Flight Center.


As for Pluto, even our most powerful telescopes take pictures that reveal very little detail, as shown in the photo at the left. Pluto is just too small and too far away to reveal very much.


To learn more about Lake County Skies in September, and to observe these objects through a telescope, visit Taylor Observatory (www.taylorobservatory.org) on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 8 to 11 p.m. This month’s observatory theme is “Global Warming – is Man destined to end up like the dinosaur?” After a presentation about global warming, there will be a planetarium show, followed by telescope viewing.


John Zimmerman has been an amateur astronomer for 50 years. He is a member of the Taylor Observatory staff, where, among his many duties, he helps create planetarium shows.


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3Dec
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3Dec
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Hometown Christmas in Lower Lake
10Dec
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10Dec
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