Monday, 27 September 2010

By the light of Jupiter

For the past few weeks while the weather was good, I had been noticing a bright spot of light in the night sky but given little thought to it.

At first, I thought it was the planet Venus, making its appearance as the Evening Star, but then as the nights wore on, I started to realise that my initial belief was wrong. That planet would have set below the horizon soon after sunset and yet, even at midnight, the bright spot lingered on and indeed it was moving across the sky itself.

Well, I know now that what I've been seeing is the giant of our solar system. By Jove, it's King Jupiter! It may not be the grandest planet but it is certainly the biggest. And these few weeks, it has been making its closest approach to Earth since 1998 or so. On 20 Sep, it passed within 594 million kilometres of our planet. Since then, it's started to move further away from us. Probably, we'll not see it so near to us again until 2022. That's what stargazers are telling us.

Two nights later, I stepped out of the house to take this photo of Jupiter and the halo around the full moon with my old Dimage Z5 camera. I know that this camera's nothing sophisticated compared to the DSLR cameras that many people are toting around like a fashion assessory, but I was still amazed at its abilty to capture Jupiter's light.

By the way, this year's 22 Sep was very special from the astronomical perspective.

First, it marked the vernal September equinox, the day during which the sun moved across the equator on its southward journey. The day is supposed to denote the official changing of the seasons: summer to autumn in the northern hemisphere and winter to spring in the southern hemisphere.

Second, it happened to coincide with the full moon on the 15th day of the eighth Chinese lunar month. It's when we Chinese all around the world celebrate the lantern festival, marked with the moon cakes. Lately, I've been seeing more imagination going into the production of moon cakes and curious people are picking up moon cakes in all sorts of filling and flavours. Personally, nothing beats the taste of the original moon cakes.

Third, in the western world, the full moon nearest to this equinox is often described as the harvest moon. In olden days when farming was the main occupation, farmers made full use of the natural light from the bright harvest moon to extend their activities well into the night.

The bonus from this unique astronomical occurrence is of course, the close vicinity of Jupiter in the night sky. The planet is still shining brightly at night but unfortunately, the rainy weather of the past two nights has put a temporary halt to my activities. Ah, well, tomorrow night then....

1 comment:

stephen said...

I think you mean autumnal equinox or september equinox instead of vernal equinox.

Nice pic of jupiter.It looks real close!