Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Astronomical Serendipity. All in a Line!

     I am constantly amazed at how serendipitous life is. Of course, many people would say it is not serendipity but rather occurrences are predestined, preplanned, preordained by a power much higher and stronger than we insignificant human beings. I don't know which it is, but I am thankful for the small things.
     This morning I awoke at 4:30 AM. At my age, getting up at night to use the bathroom is not unusual. But if my awakening is so close to morning, I sometimes can't fall back asleep. I lay in bed for a while thinking about various recent events. I shifted position again, curled up tighter in my warm nest under the covers (we haven't put the heat on in the house yet). Still no sleep came. I began to think about the fact that I had not posted on this blog for some time. (My cousin had questioned me about any recent posting during a recent gathering and I had admitted my delinquency.) Finally I could see a rim of light on the horizon over Lake Michigan to the east. I decided to get up and look at my blog and see if there were any drafts that could be worked into a posting. I went to my favorite chair in the great room and turned it toward the Lake view. Low and behold, an astronomical event appeared before my eyes -- not as dramatic as the recent lunar eclipse certainly, but still quite cool.
     The waning crescent moon hung 45 degrees from the reddening horizon. Below it, at a 45 degree angle was Venus. I very easily sighted these two heavenly bodies. But closer to the horizon, there was a third "star" in that geometrical straight line created by the moon and Venus. Immediately, my computer was on my lap and I was googling "moon and Venus in the sky". Below is the link that came up and two sky charts I have chosen to reproduce here. It turns out that this line up of heavenly bodies is not just the moon and Venus. It includes also the next most bright object in the sky, the planet Jupiter, which is the third body I saw. 

       EarthSky link tells me that there are other celestial bodies to be seen. Mars is in between Venus and Jupiter. I couldn't see Mars. I got my binoculars, and sure enough there was Mars. And Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, the Lion was easily seen next to Venus. What a lovely line up!
    Even better -- These heavenly bodies are going to be lined up like this for the next 3 mornings but the crescent moon is going to slide downward along this line, viewed lower and lower each morning. So if you chance to wake up early and can't get back to sleep check out this alignment for the next three mornings. And if you happen to live in Australia, there is an even more unusual astronomical situation. Here in North America, the crescent moon will aim its concave side toward and will contain Venus at some distance on the morning of October 9. But in Australia on that day, the moon will occult Venus. This is a term I had not heard before. Occultation occurs when the moon actually moves in front of Venus hiding it from view.

     The EarthSky link shown above is the source for the two sky charts pictured in this post. This link seems like a good source of information about these sky events. I have bookmarked it for myself. So the next time you are lying in bed, unable to sleep and getting anxious about that fact, follow your inclination. You never know what you might find.