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Skywatch for the week of September 19, 2022

Skywatch Monday 9-19-2022.mp3

Mon Sep 19, 2022 HYPERION

On September 19, 1848, father and son astronomers William and George Bond discovered Saturn’s moon, Hyperion. To them it was just a little point of light that changed position as it orbited the ringed planet. But thanks to the Cassini spacecraft, we see it as another world. Hyperion is over 200 miles in diameter; and ordinarily such a large object should be round, but Hyperion looks pretty beat-up, covered with craters, and very irregular in shape, looking like an old meatball. Its composition is mostly water ice, with some rock and dust added for texture. Hyperion tumbles erratically as it orbits Saturn, probably owing to its irregular shape and the gravitational influence of Saturn’s biggest moon Titan. This evening you can find Saturn in the southern sky, but Hyperion is a little too small to see without a good telescope.

Skywatch Tuesday 9-20-2022.mp3


Near the top of the sky this evening are three bright stars spread out across the zenith. These three stars – Vega, Altair and Deneb, form the Summer Triangle. The brightest star is Vega; it marks the constellation of Lyra the Harp. In Greek mythology, the harp belonged to many people, including the musician Arion, who was rescued by the dolphin Delphinus. Arion had been thrown overboard by some greedy pirates who wanted all the gold he had earned at a concert. Before they tossed him into the ocean, they let him sing one last song, which was overheard by the dolphin. When Arion fell into the sea, Delphinus saved him. To find the harp and the dolphin, you’ll need a very dark, clear sky. Lyra is a scattering of stars near Vega, and Delphinus is a small, faint cluster of stars on the opposite side of the Summer Triangle.

Skywatch Wednesday 9-21-2022.mp3


A musician and a science fiction writer were both born on September 21st: H. G. Wells in 1866; and Gustav Holst in 1874. Wells wrote, “The Invisible Man,”, “The Time Machine,” and “The War of the Worlds,” which was published at the end of the 19th century, at a time when there was a really big “Mars mania” sweeping the planet. The astronomer Percival Lowell had recently announced his discovery of canals on Mars (Observing Mars through a telescope, Lowell mistook natural linear features like the Mariner Valley for canals, which suggested to him that life must exist on the red planet.) In 1915 Gustav Holst wrote a piece of music that you often hear on this radio station, and also quite a bit in planetariums. It's called, "The Planets", and in it Holst wrote music to describe each of the seven known planets, including Mars.

Skywatch Thursday 9-22-2022.mp3

Thu Sep 22, 2022 FIRST DAY OF AUTUMN

It’s September 22nd, and at 9:04 pm, eastern daylight time - that’s this evening – Autumn begins. This is the autumnal or fall equinox, a point in time when, if you’re at the earth’s equator, the sun can be seen at the zenith, the top of the sky, at noon. Today, everyone around most of the world enjoys days and nights of pretty much equal length, hence the term “equinox,” which means “equal night”. From now until after the beginning of winter the sun will rise to the south of east and set to the south of west, and its noontime altitude will continue to decrease as well, as we view it from earth’s northern hemisphere. As the days progress, the sun’s path across our sky will sink lower and lower as we move toward winter. Now, south of the equator, spring begins: the seasons are reversed for earth’s southern hemisphere.

Skywatch Friday 9-23-2022.mp3


Neptune was discovered on September 23rd, 1846. Johanne Galle used the Berlin Observatory’s nine inch refracting telescope to search for a possible eighth planet in a small spot in the sky where the mathematician Urbain Leverrier had calculated it to be. Searching that spot, Galle saw a tiny, faint blue dot in the telescope’s eyepiece. Galle and his assistant Heinrich d’Arrest opened up their book of star maps, something called, the Berliner Akademischen Sternkarte, (I think I said that right,) and found that his star was “not on the map!” The next night they found that the tiny dot had moved against the background of fixed stars - it was a wanderer, a planet. Tonight, Neptune will be in the southeast after sunset, a little bit to the west of the planet Jupiter – but while Jupiter shines brightly, you’ll need a good telescope to find Neptune!