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Kauai’s night sky – September edition

Mahalo to all who came out to the August starwatch at Kaumakani.

We had excellent views of Saturn, Jupiter and many star clusters and nebulae. Adults and keiki alike were left amazed at what they saw through the Kauai Educational Association for Science and Astronomy telescopes.

KEASA astronomers are always open to questions, so anyone can learn a lot about the universe at these events as well as take in some awe-inspiring views of the heavens.

It’s not too late to catch Saturn and Jupiter in the evening. After sunset, Jupiter can be seen towards the southwest, and Saturn high overhead towards the south. Jupiter will be the brightest object in the night sky after the moon.

Saturn is also relatively bright and yellowish compared to most stars. When many people see Jupiter through a telescope for the first time, they are surprised that four of its moons are easily visible. Sometimes you can even see the shadow of one of the moons on the planet’s face, an eclipse on Jupiter seen all the way from Earth.

If you look towards the south in September after sunset, once it is completely dark, you will notice the haze of the Milky Way, which is the name given to our entire galaxy and includes our own solar system and almost everything you can see with your naked eye in the night sky.

The haze is particularly bright in this part of the sky because you are looking towards the center of our galaxy, where the densest concentrations of stars and nebulae are.

That means this area is particularly rich for viewing through a telescope or binoculars. Scanning this area will reveal many open star clusters and star-forming nebula (enormous concentrations of dust and gas in space). You will also see the Milky Way haze for what it really is — countless distant stars too far away to see as individual points of light without a telescope, whose cumulative light creates the haze we see.

Constellations in this part of the sky are Sagittarius and Scorpius. Sagittarius is recognizable by its brightest stars forming a teapot shape. The teapot is pointed directly at the center of our galaxy, where lurks a supermassive black hole with four million times the mass of the sun.

Fortunately for us, it is 26,000 light years away. Just to the right of Sagittarius is Scorpius, with its prominent hook shape that reminded ancient Greeks of the tail of a scorpion. This area of the sky contains many bright open and globular star clusters. Some of the most beautiful objects here, if seen through a large-enough telescope, are star-forming nebulae such as the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula and Swan Nebula. These objects are star factories, clouds of material shaped and illuminated by the young stars within.

In Hawaii, Scorpius is “Ka Makau Nui O Maui,” or “the big fishhook of Maui.” Sagittarius is “Pimoe,” a shape-shifting god in the form of a giant ulua. The fishhook can be seen pulling Pimoe across the sky. In the Kumulipo (Hawaiian creation chant), Maui catches Pimoe and pulls him ashore. Maui then devours all but the tail, leaving it to live on out of pity for Mahanauluehu, the child of Pimoe.

KEASA hosts its monthly public starwatch at the Kauamakani Neighborhood Center mauka softball field on Saturday, Sept. 21. See for the full schedule.

Those attending should arrive at sunset and bring comfortable chairs or blankets.

If the weather is in doubt, call 346-5796 to verify the event is still on. While there, speak to one of the members about the benefits of membership. More stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts are needed to carry KEASA into the future.
Source: The Garden Island

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