September Astronomical Highlights: Andromeda Galaxy and a Comet
By Kelly Kizer Whitt
Relief from the heat of summer and long days baking in the sun is on its way. The Northern Hemisphere's fall equinox occurs on Sept. 22 at 6:54 P.M. PDT. The harvest moon—the full moon that comes closest to the equinox—is just two nights later, on Sept. 24 at 7:53 P.M. PDT. On this date, the moon is in the constellation Pisces.
As you admire the full harvest moon, turn your gaze higher in the sky to find a circle, square and distant galaxy. The round shape close to the full moon is the Circlet of Pisces, part of the constellation of the fish. Above the Circlet and spanning a much larger swath of sky is the Great Square of Pegasus. The constellation of Pegasus rises in the east in September, with the asterism (grouping of stars) set more on end like a diamond. Imagine a large baseball diamond in the sky, with home plate nearest to the horizon. The star marking third base, Alpheratz, is actually not part of the constellation Pegasus but part of neighboring Andromeda.
While you're gazing at Alpheratz, measure 15 degrees to the left of the star to reach the Andromeda Galaxy. An easy way to do this is to stretch your arm out and create a fist, then extend and spread out your pinkie and index fingers (rock on). The distance between these fingers should mark about 15 degrees of sky and get you in the vicinity of Andromeda. You'll probably need binoculars to see it. Now that you know where to find Andromeda, try again on a moonless night and away from artificial sources of light. You may even be able to find it without optical aid.
Four Bright Planets
This month, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars are arrayed across the sky from west to southeast. On Sept. 1, Venus is quite close to the star Spica in Virgo, and the pair can be found near the horizon soon after sunset. Venus is the easiest to find because it's so much brighter than all the other points of light in the sky, but it sets shortly after the sun. A crescent moon is wide of Venus on Sept. 11 and then above Venus on Sept. 12.
On Sept. 13, the slowly growing crescent moon is close to Jupiter in the constellation Libra. The somewhat bright star closest to Jupiter is Zubenelgenubi. By Sept. 17, the moon has evolved to slightly more than half full and hop-scotched over Saturn, which is not far from the center of the galaxy. When you look toward Saturn, you are looking toward the heart of the Milky Way.
Lastly, the moon meets up with Mars on Sept. 19 in Capricornus. Mars is coming down from its "high" of opposition when it was particularly bright. The Red Planet will start September brighter than Jupiter but dim steadily until Jupiter once again surpasses it.
With all the bright planetary targets in September, there's one planet that's a fun challenge to try to find. Neptune reaches opposition on Sept. 7 at magnitude 7.8. You'll need optical aid to see it. Because it's so dim, it's difficult to distinguish from background stars. The best time to see Neptune is not necessarily opposition but whenever a brighter planet skims past it so you can focus your binoculars or telescope on the easy-to-find planet and then spot Neptune popping up in the background. You'll have to wait until December for just such a close encounter between Neptune and Mars.
Comet Giacobini-Zinner Nears Naked-Eye Visibility
You might get to see a comet without optical aid in September. Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner might reach naked-eye visibility around Sept. 10 in dark-sky locations. Start during the first couple days of the month by looking near the bright star Capella in Auriga, found in the northeastern sky after dark. Capella should be easy to find because it's the brightest star rising in this region of sky.
With binoculars, search for the comet by sweeping the area near Capella and looking for a hazy, diffuse area of light that stands apart from the pinpricks of stars. The comet won't stay near Capella for long, however. Each night it dives closer to the horizon, so you'll have to stay up later as September wears on to be sure the comet has risen and is visible.
By Sept. 19, the comet is positioned between the constellations of Gemini the Twins and Orion. (The comet will be a wide left of Orion's reddish shoulder star Betelgeuse.) By the end of September, the comet is nearing Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. Giacobini-Zinner will complete a large loop around the Greater Dog over the coming months as it slows its progress through the sky and dims until it's out of the reach of most backyard telescopes.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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