Night Skies of the Fall

Night Skies of the Fall

There is always something interesting going on in the night skies. Meteors, comets, planets, constellations changing position. September 22 is the Fall Equinox in 2009. Was there anything happening at this time?

We know the Earth is tilted on its axis. For half the year the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun and for half the year the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. The fall equinox marks the time that the northern hemispheres transitions from pointing toward the sun to pointing away from the sun. If you watch the sun, just like the birds, it is heading south for the winter.

There are two star groupings that every Scout should recognize in the night skies (in the northern hemisphere). The first is the constellation Cassiopeia. The second is the Big Dipper. Many people think the Big Dipper is a constellation, but is merely part of the Great Bear constellation. These stars can help you locate north using the North Star. These groups are circumpolar which means that at any time of year the constellation is always visible. They are on opposite sides of the North Star so when Cassiopeia is low on the horizon, the Big Dipper is high in the sky.

Finding the North Star. Using the Big Dipper as your guide, the two stars at the end of the bowl of the dipper point to the North Star. If you follow the line from the pointer stars through the North Star, you will find Cassiopeia on the opposite side of the North Star. You can also locate the North Star using Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia is a large W. Looking at the end star in the left leg of the W, there is a star directly in front of that end star. Extending a line from the last star in the left leg of Cassiopeia and the star directly in front of it will take you to the North Star. Since one of these star guides is always visible in the northern sky, you can always be able to find north.

In addition to the stars, three planets are also visible in the September night sky. Looking to the south southeast, Jupiter is clearly visible as one of the brightest objects in the sky. It is visible for most of the night. Looking to the east Venus is visible close to the horizon in the early morning. Mars is visible higher on the horizon and is visible for a longer time than Venus.

Spend some time learning the objects in the night sky- bright stars, constellations, how to locate one constellation from another. If you are on a trip and far away from home, it is easy to feel lonely and lost. There is a lot of comfort to be found looking up at a familiar sky. You feel closer to home. The link for the Big Dipper below shows how to locate other constellations from the Big Dipper.

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