2017-09-01 / Stargazing

Those aren’t just stars in the sky, they’re ‘stars’ in stories, too

For September 2017, the moon will be full on Sept. 6; this is the Harvest Moon. The moon is last quarter on Sept. 13, and the waning crescent moon passes Venus in the dawn on Sept. 17. The new moon is Sept 20, but there will be no more solar eclipses for us locally until 2023. The moon is first quarter on Sept. 28, close to Saturn in the evening sky.

It is this time of year that an American Indian legend tells of the Bear and three hunters. The bowl is the bear, the three handle stars of the dipper, the hunters. The first carries a bow and has shot the bear in its flanks.

The second optimistically carries a bowl on his shoulder for bear stew; look closely, and you can see the pot (Mizar, horse in Arabic, and Alcor its rider more traditionally).

The last hunter carries firewood for the feast.

The wound is minor, and the bear has not lost a step, but in the fall, as the bear goes into hiding along the northwest horizon, the wound opens slightly, and blood oozes out to fall on the tree leaves and paint them red this time of year.

From the Dipper’s handle, we “arc” southeast to bright orange Arcturus, the brightest star of Spring. Spike south to Spica, the hot blue star in Virgo. To the northeast of Vega is Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus the Swan. At the other end of the “Northern Cross” that makes up the body of Cygnus is Alberio, the finest and most colorful double star in the sky. Its orange and blue members are well resolved at 20X by any small scope. This fine shot of it is by EAAA member John VeDepo with an 18” scope.

Jupiter is just northwest of Spica, a little brighter and more yellow in color.

Note that Spica is now low in the southwest and, by September’s end, will be lost in the sun’s glare, due to our annual revolution of the sun’s making it appear to move one degree per day eastward.

To the Greeks, Spica and Virgo were associated with Persephone, the daughter of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. In their version of “Judge Judy,” the beautiful young daughter falls for the gruff, dark god of the underworld, Pluto.

He elopes with her, much to the disapproval of Mother Ceres, and they marry in his underworld kingdom of Hades … a honeymoon in hell.

Really, he does love her, as well, and the marriage itself works well.

But it is the reaction of Ceres that creates alarm. Very despondent over the loss of her young daughter to a fate as bad as death, Ceres abandons the crops, which wither. Soon famine sets in, and humanity appeals to Jupiter to save us all. Calling all together, Jupiter hears that Ceres wants the marriage annulled, . Persephone loves them both, and Pluto wants his mother-in-law to stop meddling.

Solomon style, Jupiter decides to split her up, not literally, but in terms of time. In the compromise (aren’t all marriages so?), when you can see Spica rising in the east in March, it means to plant your peas. For the next six months, she visits upstairs with a very happy mama, and the crops will prosper.

But now, as Spica heads west (to the kingdom of death, in most ancient legends) for six months of conjugal bliss with Pluto, it is time to get your corn in the crib.

This simple story, told in some form for as long as Noah’s flood, was one of the ways our ancestors 7,000 years ago knew the solar calendar and when to plant and harvest. As you watch Spica fade, thank this star for agriculture, and in a certain sense, even our own culture.

Download the

September Evening

Sky Map at skymaps.com for a list of the best objects to view with the naked eye, binoculars & scopes.


by the Escambia Amateur Astronomers begin at sunset and run ‘til 10 p. m.

Battery Worth on Ft. Pickens Friday V September 22nd

*the dark sky sessions will allow observers to enjoy the beauty of the

night sky, the Milky Way, and many more galaxies beyond our own

Pensacola Beach Gulfside Pavilion Friday V September 1st & Saturday V September 2nd Friday V September 29th & Saturday V September 30th

*these sidewalk astronomy sessions will feature observing the first quarter moon overhead, Be sure to bring your smartphone for great shots of the first quarter moon,

Big Lagoon State Park V Saturday V September 15th

(near the observation tower) Bring along your digital cameras.

* celebrate the dark skies.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit www.eaaa.net or call Dr. Wayne Wooten in the Physical Sciences Department of Pensacola State College at (850) 484- 1152, or e- mail him at wwooten@pensacolastate.edu.

Join them on Facebook at Escambia Amateur Astronomers Association.

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