~ St. Maarten’s Backyard Astronomy for September 22-24 ~
Sun rises at 6:02am
Sun sets at 6:01pm
Lunar phase: Just past Full Moon (Thursday night)
Moon sets at 1:52am
Moon rises at 3:30pm
I know it’s still really hot outside, but according to the stars and the solar system, it’s officially autumn – recall we just had the fall equinox last week and this week even the moon let us know it was the full Harvest Moon. And unbelievably, this was the fourth full super moon in a row.
A super moon is slightly bigger than an average full moon. It’s the difference between looking at a US 5-cent coin (a nickel) and a 25-cent coin (a quarter) – the result of the lunar orbit circling just a bit closer to earth for a few cycles.
This month, the full moon sat within the stars of the constellation Pisces, the Fish, and by Saturday night, it will still be very close to the fish. Nearby to the moon, you will find the planet Jupiter, rising just after the moon and just before the constellation Taurus, the Bull. Saturn is also clearly visible this weekend, but it is far from the moon and Jupiter. Look due South at sunset, near the constellation Aquarius, the Water Bearer. You will find it about halfway up in the sky above the horizon.
A bit higher up from Aquarius is the large constellation Pegasus, The Winged Horse. Notable for its “Great Square” of bright stars, the legend of Pegasus is linked in mythology to the constellations of Cassiopeia the Queen and Cepheus the King, and their beautiful daughter, the princess Andromeda. And, of course, every story needs a hero – enters Perseus.
The mythological royal family decided to sacrifice Andromeda to the sea monster Cetus to hopefully calm the storms they had been experiencing. They chained their daughter to a rock near the shoreline, but she was rescued by Perseus, as he flew by on Pegasus. He was returning from a mission to slay the snake-haired Medusa, whose severed head he held within a bag tied to Pegasus. It was said that anyone that looked upon Medusa’s eyes would turn to stone. Perseus unveiled the head of Medusa and showed it to the sea monster, who immediately turned to stone and sank to the bottom of the sea. Thus, Perseus won Andromeda’s hand in marriage. You can predict the last line of the story – they lived happily ever after, with the added detail that they produced seven children!
You’ll find all these characters imaged in the stars in the same region of the sky – so much easier to tell the story to your friends and family while gazing up at night. From Pegasus overhead, look northward for the constellations in this interesting tale.