The Autumnal Equinox, or the first day of fall, will take place this year on September 22, at 11:09 p.m. This is a time when the direct ray of the sun strikes the equator. If you were located at the equator during this time during the day, the sun would be straight up or directly overhead at 12 noon. The word "equinox" means equal, however the only place on Earth that will actually have an equal number of day and nighttime hours is the equator. In Connecticut on September 22, the sun will rise at 6:43 a.m. and set at 6:54 p.m. The difference in time of the setting sun at different latitudes is the result of the shape of Earth. Our planet is larger in diameter at the equator and smaller as you move north and south.
On the morning of September 23, the sun will rise due east and each day that follows it will rise further and further to the south. As the sun apparently moves to the south, it will be lower in the sky and the days will become shorter and the nights longer. Since Connecticut receives a low angle of solar radiation at this time the temperature will also drop.
The Balanced Egg Trick
Many believe that the only time you can balance an egg and get it to stand straight up on its end is during the equinox. This is not true. The position of our planet really has nothing to do with such balancing acts. If you have patience you can make an egg stand on its end at any time of the year. It's amazing to think that even science educators in elementary and secondary schools still believe in the once a year egg balancing trick. No one knows for sure how this bad astronomy idea began and who originated it, but it has been with us for as long as I can remember.
Jupiter, the King of the Planets,
Rules the September Sky
Have you noticed the bright star like object in the southeast as soon as it gets dark? This object is not a star, but the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is in a great position for observation during the month of September. If you have a telescope this will be a good time to see its cloud belts, red spot and at least four of its largest moons.
Jupiter is now the brightest object in the sky, excluding the sun and moon. When you look at the planet notice that it shines with a steady light while the stars seems to flicker. This is because Jupiter is very close to us when compared to the stars, which are trillions of miles away. Also, the stars give out their own light while Jupiter shines by reflected light from the sun. Although the planet is almost 400 million miles from Earth, it appears so bright to us because it is very large. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and so huge that almost 1,000 Earths can fit inside it. Jupiter is fantastic when viewed through the 12-inch telescope at the Bowman Observatory.
A Very Bright Harvest Moon
The full moon will take place right around the first day of fall. This full moon is the Harvest Moon and if the weather is clear it should be quite bright and high in the sky. The Harvest Moon will rise in the east at sunset and set in the west at sunrise. If you are a moon lover then make sure that you don't miss this celestial event. Earth is actually blessed to have such a large moon circling it since the three other planets in the inner solar system, Mercury, Venus and Mars do not.
Our moon actually has a name; she is called Selene and was named after the ancient Greek goddess who was the daughter of the Titan Atlas. Selene gives us a great deal more than a spectacular sight in the sky; our natural satellite also stabilizes the orbit of our planet. Without the moon, over time, Earth would shift on its axis as it orbits the sun. This would result in extreme changes in weather patterns making life on our planet almost impossible.
Philip J. Imbrogno is a science educator and author. His books can be found in most book stores and on AMAZON.com. Phil can be reached at the Greenwich Time or email at email@example.com