September 2011

Tony Martinez

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into three sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, and with a small telescope. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on September 27th. For September, your best viewing nights will be from September 15th through September 31st. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on September 15th at 9 pm.

Astronomy at ScienceSouth:

In the next several months, ScienceSouth is planning various astronomy programs. These programs will include the following.

Sidewalk Astronomy: ScienceSouth will bring out our telescopes to various places in the area to allow everyone to view the craters and mountains of the Moon, and any visible planets. Example, Jupiter will be visible from November through next February, Mars next spring, and Saturn next summer. The Sidewalk astronomy program has been run several times in the past few years at local businesses, libraries, churches and at Lynches River Park. Below are some photos from last year at our event next to Rita’s on Irby Street.

In addition the nighttime Sidewalk Astronomy programs, we also hold some daytime viewings of the Sun. We have two solar telescopes, and one solar image projector. This equipment allows us to view both sunspots, and the eruptions off the Sun’s surface called prominences.

Astronomy Nights at ScienceSouth: In addition to reaching out to the public with our Sidewalk Astronomy program, this year we plan to initiate astronomy nights at the ScienceSouth Center at Freedom Florence.

This program will also allow you to view various objects in the night sky. We will have two or more telescopes available. In addition, we encourage everyone to bring a pair of binoculars with them. As I have mentioned in previous columns, binoculars are a great introduction to astronomy. They are easy to use, and can also have many other daytime viewing uses. We have special lasers at ScienceSouth that we use to help you to find many astronomy targets with your own binoculars.

The Astronomy Night programs at ScienceSouth will have one major difference from our Sidewalk Astronomy program; we will be running the program even if it is a cloudy or rainy night! ScienceSouth has a new Star Lab planetarium through a NASA funded grant.

The Star Lab is an inflatable dome planetarium, which can easily hold twenty adults at a time. Unlike the other dome planetarium we have, this new Star Lab is digital, and is driven by a powerful computerized astronomy program. This Star Lab will allow us to show you astronomy events occurring from 100,000 BC to 100,000 AD! We can visit our solar system’s planets, and venture out to the stars our Milky Way, and even out beyond our galaxy. Note: I will feature our new Star Lab and discuss its many capabilities in a future column. In addition, at the astronomy night we will have some short presentations and some astronomy based activities to do. We will also have many different telescopes on display inside the pavilion for a telescope “show and tell.” So if it is a cloudy night, there will be plenty of fun things to do inside our ScienceSouth pavilion. If we do have a clear night, you can enjoy both outside viewing, and if you wish, you can spend some time checking out our Star Lab inside.

Astronomy Workshops: In addition to our planned events discussed above, we have tentative plans to run astronomy workshops at ScienceSouth. The astronomy workshops will be directed at people who enjoy amateur astronomy, or have considered a hobby in astronomy, but really don’t know how to proceed. Therefore, if you own a telescope, feel free to bring it to the workshop. If you only own binoculars, bring them along. If you have neither, you can bring yourself and family, and use ScienceSouth’s equipment. We will be available to teach you how to best use your equipment, and answer any basic astronomy viewing questions. If you are just starting out, we will discuss the purchasing of your first telescope.

We will also teach viewing techniques, and discuss useful astronomy software, books, etc. One key presentation will be on the Messier Objects. Locating all 110 Messier Objects in the night sky is not only challenging and fun, but is a surefire method to find your way around the night sky.

So, we hope to see everyone at some or all of our planned ScienceSouth astronomy events over the next several months. Keep checking out this column, but most importantly, check out our website at for the dates of upcoming events.

Our first astronomy program is planned for our first Science After Dark series on September 15th, 7-9 pm. Note: Our Science After Dark programs will run throughout the year, and each program will feature a different science theme. Again, check our website regularly to confirm the dates and times of our programs.

Naked Eye Sights: Note our star chart above shows that the famous

Summer Triangle is directly overhead at mid-month. This triangle is formed by the three stars: Deneb, Vega, and Altair. At the end of the month you will see a bright star-like object rising in the east in the late evening; this is the return of the planet Jupiter. Jupiter will be the visible throughout late fall and through the winter months.

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): If you are looking in the region of the Summer Triangle, take time to use your binoculars to find the interesting binocular asterism, the Coathanger, between Altair and Albireo. The image below will help your search.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm): Staying in the Summer Triangle, revisit the Ring Nebula (M57) near Vega and the Dumbbell Nebula (M27); both were featured in July’s column.

See you next month!

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