Skywatch: Fall is almost here


For some, this time of year is bittersweet. It’s officially the last week of summer. Many welcome the pleasant and sunny days of early fall but they’re sad to file another summer in the books knowing that colder weather lurks on the horizon. As we enter the next season, you may notice that the sun is setting faster than usual, and you wouldn't be imagining things if you did. Sunsets and sunrises are fastest around the equinoxes, both the vernal (spring) and autumnal (fall). That’s because during the equinox, the sun is directly over the equator. As a result, this is the time of year that the sun is truly rising in the east and setting due west. During the summer and winter solstices, the sun is setting farther north/south of due west. This means the sun is setting at more of an oblique angle during the solstices than it does around the equinoxes (when the angle of the setting sun is steeper). If you’re counting, sunrises and sunsets will be about 30 seconds shorter this week than they are around the solstices.

Stargazing will be easier this week (when the clouds break) due to the darkening moon. The New Moon officially arrives at 1:30 on Wednesday morning.

If you’re out early on Wednesday morning, look in the east shortly after 6:00 A.M. and you’ll find our three closest planetary neighbors. Venus will be the highest in the sky shining brightly. It’ll appear as the brightest star in the sky. Mars will hang below and left of the planet with Mercury even farther below hugging the horizon.

As mentioned earlier, fall is almost here. It’ll officially arrive Friday afternoon at 4:02 P.M. That is the point at which the sun will be directly overhead at the equator. It’s also when the length of the day and the length of the night will be roughly equal giving rise to the the term, “Equal day and equal night”. Happy hunting!