Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sukkot sights

Jupiter among evening starsBabak Tafreshi

It's a busy holiday season, particularly for women (ahem!), but the heavens are sympathetic to our long hours, providing those of us who rise early and retire late with some beautiful sights. Venus, now at its brightest for this year, is low in the southwest after sunset. If you didn't know about planet revolution, and you were putting in particularly long hours in a kitchen with a window that faced west
(does it sound as if I am speaking from personal experience?), you might think that Venus just stays put all night and into the next morning, because Jupiter, now at its closest (and therefore brightest) to us, sets in the western sky just before dawn.

When we women are able to leave the kitchen—for example, when we have to lug the garbage bags out to the dumpster—we might be able to see both Venus and Jupiter, because Jupiter is now at what the Astronomer loves to call "opposition" but what I think of as "cooperation": As Venus sets in the west, Jupiter rises in the east. That is not what "opposition" means, of course. Opposition is when the planet is opposite the sun, relative to us. But the main thing is that both planets are big and bright and very beautiful, providing a welcome diversion to long hours of holiday cooking.

The Astronomer, not being over-burdened with garbage bags, reminds me that this is a great time to spot Uranus, if you've got a telescope or a good pair of binoculars (and free hands with which to lug them outside). Uranus is also coming to opposition and is currently less than 1 degree away from Jupiter, so easier than usual to find. Another lovely sight is expected in the sky this week,
(Wednesday and Thursday, to be exact), when Jupiter and the Moon will be close together in the sky. This will undoubtedly make Uranus hard to see because the light of the Moon will flood the surrounding sky, but it will make Jupiter simple to find because it will be that bright "star" near the Moon.

One other thrilling celestial event happening this week (Thursday the 23rd) is of course the fall (Autumnal) Equinox, also known as the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere. Crossing the equator as it heads south for the winter, the Sun will rise and set exactly due east and west, respectively. Day and night are supposed to be of equal length on the equinox (as in *equal*) but for complicated reasons the Astronomer can't explain to me, the daylight still wins over the night by a few minutes.

Eastward view at dusk. Before the 22nd, Jupiter will be there but not the Moon.

Happy Chagim!
Keep looking up!

The Astronomer's Wife

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