September 2, 2015

The Night Sky:
Rare 'supermoon' total eclipse will be Sept. 27


The Perseids meteor shower on Aug. 12 was a good show.  I saw numerous shooting stars, but the best moment for me happened when two very bright meteors simultaneously streaked across the sky side by side.

I spent several fruitless nights trying to get a good shot of the Andromeda Galaxy, M31.  Hopefully, I will be able to get a good shot of it in the coming months.

Meanwhile, above is a shot of Messier 20, the Trifid Nebula, which is about 5,000 light years away.  It has a visual magnitude of +6.3.  The back sections that seem to divide the red cloud are lanes of black dust.


September starts with Neptune as close as it gets to the Earth.  You’ll need a telescope to view it. With a visual magnitude of +7.8, you can’t see it with the naked eye.  Neptune is 2.7 billion miles away, so it’s not someplace you drive to for the weekend.  We see the light it reflects from the sun.  That means the light has traveled close to 5 billion miles before we can catch a glimpse of this blue planet.

Uranus is also visible for much of September.  With a magnitude of +5.7, it can be viewed on very clear nights.  Because of city lights, if you want to try viewing Uranus with the naked eye, you’ll have a better chance of seeing it by taking a ride out to Ramp 27 or some other dark area.

On Sept. 4, Mercury will be at its highest point above the evening horizon.  Look for it just above the southwest horizon right after sundown. 

The Fall Equinox occurs on Sept. 23. 

On Sept. 27,  there will be a rare sky event -- a so-called "supermoon" with a total lunar eclipse. September’s full moon, also known as the Harvest Moon, is called a "supermoon" because it appears significantly larger and brighter than usual.

A total eclipse of the moon starts at about 9 p.m. with the maximum coverage of the moon happening about 10:47 p.m. According to NASA, it will be the first supermoon eclipse since 1982, and the last until 2033.

The total lunar eclipse will be visible to observers throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, western Asia and the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Last Quarter: Sept. 5
New Moon: Sept. 13
First Quarter: Sept. 21
Full Moon: Sept. 27.


The Fall Equinox means the tilt of the earth towards the sun is close to zero.  So both the northern and southern hemispheres receive the same amount of sunlight -- 12 hours.  It signals the beginning of autumn.

(Gerry Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington, D.C.  He has visited Hatteras Island since the mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.  Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky through e-mail, [email protected].)

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