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Last modified: Wednesday, September 27, 2006

STAR TRAK

October brings the Harvest Moon

Saturn

Photo by: NASA

Saturn

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 27, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the September equinox. For several nights in a row around Oct. 6 in the Northern Hemisphere, the nearly-full moon will rise in the east soon after sunset and seem to hang above the horizon as it follows a shallow angle up into the sky, enabling farmers to continue working in the fields to bring in the harvest.

For a few days the moon will rise only about 20-30 minutes later each night, instead of its usual 50 minutes later, so it will provide bright light for those working outdoors after sunset. When it is close to the horizon, the moon will be colored yellow-orange by dust particles and other debris in the lower atmosphere. As it rises higher into the sky, it will turn its usual brilliant white as other full moons do.

In celebration of the Harvest Moon, the Indiana University Department of Astronomy and the IU Asian Culture Center will present a Moon Festival on Oct. 4 from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. The festival will be at Kirkwood Observatory on the Bloomington campus, located just east of the intersection of Fourth Street and Indiana Avenue. An Asian moon festival is a holiday for family members and friends to get together and give thanks after the crops have been gathered and heavy work in the fields is over. Visitors may also view the full moon through the Kirkwood Observatory's telescope if weather permits. For more information, call the Asian Culture Center at 812-856-5361 or visit http://www.indiana.edu/~acc.

Details about the Harvest Moon can be found at http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2000/ast11sep_2.htm.

For a discussion of the "moon illusion," the optical illusion that sometimes makes the full moon appear larger than it really is to our eyes but not to cameras, see http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2005/20jun_moonillusion.htm.

Meteor shower

The Orionid meteor shower will peak on the night of Oct. 21-22. The moon will be new, so if weather permits, observers with a dark sky can expect to see about 15 meteors per hour. The Orionids take their name from the familiar constellation Orion the Hunter, which is where they appear to originate. Orion will rise before midnight in the east-southeast, and the number of meteors will increase as Orion gets higher above the horizon. The Orionid meteors are dust particles from Halley's Comet, left behind in the comet's orbit. As Earth crosses that orbit, the comet particles collide with our atmosphere at high speed and are burned up in an instant by friction with air molecules, creating bright streaks in the sky.

Planets

Saturn will rise around 3 a.m. local time at the beginning of October but about 12:30 a.m. by month's end. The best views of the yellow planet with a telescope will be when it is high in the southeast before dawn. Most telescopes will show its famous rings, tilted toward Earth.

Jupiter will be barely visible above the west-southwestern horizon during October. By month's end you may need binoculars to find it.

Mercury will be even closer to the horizon than Jupiter for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, but it will be considerably higher in the west when viewed from the Southern Hemisphere.

Venus and Mars will be out of sight behind the sun during October.

Moon phases

The moon will be full (the Harvest Moon) on Oct. 6, at third quarter on Oct. 13, new on Oct. 22 and at first quarter on Oct. 29.