Astronomy, Equinox Highlights for September in Oregon - Portland, the Coast
(Portland, Oregon) – The night skies in September will feature plenty of interesting phenomena to keep the budding astronomer busy. Those in Oregon, Washington, much of the northern hemisphere – including the Oregon coast – will get an eyeful of the autumnal equinox, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, the Big Dipper and the moon. (Above: the Big Dipper in Newport)
OMSI planetarium manager Jim Todd said the equinox is the highlight, but other starry sights abound as well.
“In September, the highlights include the autumnal equinox on September 22, departure of Mars and Saturn in the western evening sky, and the arrival of Jupiter into the eastern evening sky,” Todd said.
Above: Cannon Beach and astronomy viewing.
Fall officially begins with the autumnal equinox, which happens on Saturday, September 22, Todd said.
“At that point the Sun is directly above the Earth’s equator, and the significance of this is that every point on Earth will, for one day, experience nearly 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of daylight,” Todd said. “The Sun rises due east and sets due west on the equinox. At the South Pole the penguins will be celebrating the first appearance of the sun in six months. By the same token, at the North Pole the polar bears will be bracing themselves for six months of darkness.”
The autumnal equinox and its opposite – the vernal, or spring, equinox – are the result of the Earth moving around the Sun, Todd explains. The axis of the Earth's orbit is tilted at 23.5 degrees at those times.
Stargazing at Arch Cape, near Cannon Beach.
Also coming onto the scene on September 29 is Uranus at Opposition, which is supposed to make it more visible than usual to amateur astronomers with telescopes. Its face will be illuminated by the Sun and it will be swinging near the Earth at its closest. However, around Oregon and the Northwest United States, the moon's light will be interfering too much.
According to EarthSky.org, September is the time you can use the Big Dipper and Little Dipper to find the North Star – Polaris. The bowl of the Big Dipper points towards it (above it), while the handle of the Little Dipper marks Polaris itself. See diagram here.
Cape Foulweather at night, near Depoe Bay
Along the Oregon coast, September is part of the “Second Summer” season on the beach, which will often mean fairly clear skies. Nighttime skies will be substantially darker than near larger towns like Salem or Eugene, but ocean air may cause its own interference.
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