David L. Richards
As September begins, Mars and Saturn are conspicuous near the southwest horizon. On Sept. 8 the first quarter moon joins them.
At 7 a.m. beginning around Sept. 19, watch for Mercury right in the east, 7 degrees above the horizon. This will be the best time all year to see the tiny planet.
Venus shines brightly in the west right after sunset. You may spot Jupiter right below Venus during the first few days of September. On Friday, the gas giant and the tiny crescent of the waxing moon are separated by less than ˝ degree on the horizon at sunset. Jupiter becomes lost in the sun’s glare soon thereafter.
Sept. 22 marks the fall or autumnal equinox, when the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equator, and night and day are of approximately equal length.
A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs on Sept. 16, and an annular solar eclipse on Thursday, but you’ll have to visit Africa to see them. We have only an 11-month wait until we can view the great solar eclipse of 2017 in our area (90 percent of the sun eclipsed) .
Q: (Fellow walks into my office) “Hey, this rock looks like a meteorite! Is it?”
A: No. Well, probably not.
It is quite difficult to determine whether a rock is a meteorite just from its appearance. If it looks “burned,” you saw it fall, it was warm when you picked it up, it is flat and thin, it has craters on it — all of these suggest it is NOT a meteorite.
I was birding in Arizona when I found what I really thought appeared to be a meteorite, until I looked around and found literally hundreds of similar objects. Even a geologist I showed it to was certain it was a meteorite. Turns out it was ejecta from an ancient volcano.
Everyone who sees it on my desk believes it to be a meteorite. I call it the Knoté Meteorite. Well-known astronomer Dr. Phil Plait calls these objects meteor-wrongs. I’ve lost track of how many have been brought into my office.
If you really think you have found one of these rocks from space, start by visiting http://meteorites.wustl.edu/what_to_do.htm. And prepare to spend a few dollars. Don’t ask me; I clearly am too easily fooled.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043, email firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at https://hooverpriceplanetarium.wordpress.com/.