Those of you who enjoy observing the heavens should find the upcoming week (starting Monday, September 20th, 2010) particularly interesting, as a number of significant astronomical phenomena will be taking place. Furthermore, these events will be converging on several, traditionally important calendar days.
Jupiter has been especially brilliant during the evening hours all this past year. In my own area, it currently rises around 7PM EDT (just at dusk), and by about 10PM is easily seen as the brightest "star" above the eastern horizon. On September 20th, Jupiter will make its closest approach to earth in its current trajectory -- the closest it's been, in fact, in almost fifty years.
And, together with the planet Uranus, Jupiter will be at opposition to the sun on the 21st. The two planets will then be in conjunction on the 22nd, the autumnal equinox -- the first day of fall, and traditionally the celebration day of the harvest, or "Harvest Home". You can watch both planets parade across the sky together on these evenings, although you will most likely need binoculars or a telescope to view Uranus.
The next evening, September 23rd, will mark the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth, and feature the Full Harvest Moon in conjunction with Jupiter. Also, Venus, which, as of late, has been quite bright, but very low on the western horizon, just after sunset, will achieve its greatest brilliance that evening.
Finally, on the following week, September 29th will mark the feast of Saint Michael, one of the four "Quarter Days" of the early Christian calendar that was considered to more or less coincide with earlier, Celtic celebrations of the autumnal equinox.
It's interesting to note that Jupiter's close approach to earth in 2010 coincides with the Quadricentennial of Galileo's discovery of the moons of Jupiter in 1610, a concrete, scientific observation he was ultimately forced to disavow on threat of being burned at the stake by church authorities. It's also personally interesting to me that Galileo died in January of 1642, a mere three months before the birth of Joseph Hawkins. Makes me feel that these events of the distant past were perhaps not really all that long ago, after all.
If you'd like to read further about these forthcoming astronomical events or find rise/set times for your area, visit the Old Farmer's Almanac's Astronomy page. You can also follow the almanac on twitter: @almanac. If I manage to get any photos of these events, I'll post them here.
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