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KEN FROM What's Up Tonight

September is one of the best months for stargazing since nights become longer and the warmth of summer lingers into the fall evenings. With autumn officially beginning on Sept. 22, we reflect on the changing seasons.

Six months ago the earth moved around the sun to a position where the northern hemisphere received more direct rays from the sun. This resulted in the warming of the earth, springtime, budding of leaves and germination of seeds. Now, as the tilt of the earth offers us less direct sunlight and shorter days, the northern hemisphere cools, most vegetation completes its growing cycle and we harvest the results of the spring and summer's warm days.

As you enjoy your toast and coffee, you might be reminded that the wheat for your toast and all our food is intricately connected to the seasons, which result from our position to the sun. Other cultures without calendars often have a more direct connection between the night's constel-lations and the times for planting and harvesting. Our view of the night sky and the changing constel-lations of this sea-son are connected to the essentials of life even when we are least aware of it.

Jupiter continues to dominate the night sky as you look to the southeast when darkness falls on September evenings. The nightly dance of its moons is visible with binoculars or with a modest telescope. This year, its moons pass directly in front of or directly behind each other, as well as directly in front or behind Jupiter. This makes for interes-ting viewing over the course of some evenings when the moons eclipse each other or create a shadow on the surface of Jupiter (the appearance of a black dot visible on the top of Jupiter's clouds).

For early risers, Venus continues to blaze brightly in the eastern sky before dawn, while Mars appears higher in the sky and begins to show its colours (a distinctly reddish colour). If you were fooled by the "Mars Myth" and hoped to see Mars as large as the full moon back on Aug. 27, you can have the satisfaction of at least spotting Mars as it increases in brightness between now and January. In mid-September, you can spot a beautiful crescent moon just above Mars in the predawn skies-a picturesque pairing of our two closest celestial neighbors.

In this column, we have often mentioned the constellations changing from season to season. In the summer, we don't see Orion because it is behind the sun or up during daytime hours where we can't see it.

Likewise, summer constellations such as Sagittarius, are hidden from view during the winter months. However, some constellations such as the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia are visible all year long. We call these constellations "circumpolar." With their proximity to Polaris, the North Star, they appear to travel in a circle around Polaris. However, other constellations that are further from Polaris dip below the horizon and can be seen only as the earth's orbit around the sun permits us to see them in the night sky.

If you have a dark sky, look for the famous "W" shape of Cassiopeia, the Queen, and you will see it each month of the year from Canadian latitudes.

If you lived in Australia, you could never see Cassiopeia or the Big Dipper because they are always hidden over the northern horizon from southern latitudes. If you are considering a winter vacation plan to take along binoculars to view parts of the universe that you never see.

With four months remaining in the international year of astronomy, September is one of the most inviting months to discover and enjoy our connection to the grand universe.

During the International Year of Astronomy, Ken and Bev From will be offering regular public observing nights at their acreage near Didsbury. Information on observing nights are available www.WhatsUpTonight.net