Hope you had a great look at the Harvest Moon this week. Tonight it will rise big and bright but not so round. You’ll notice a sliver missing along its western side marking the moon’s transition from full phase to waning gibbous.
The photo-map at left is a screen grab from Christian Legrand and Patrick Chevalley’s Virtual Moon Atlas, a fantastic free program for Mac and Windows.
The atlas shows a very realistic moon with exact phase for your location, libration angle and lots of labeled features with in-depth descriptive information. The authors also offer a crazy variety of downloadable databases (Lunar Orbiter, Chinese Chang’e 2 moon data, etc.), picture libraries and different landscape textures available as add-ons. To get started, download the atlas HERE.
Prefer an atlas for your iPhone or Android? No problem. Check this list of lunar apps to find something you like.
I received several Harvest Moon photos in my e-mail the past few days. Thank you everyone who sent one! We were mostly cloudy here in Duluth, Minn. except for a short spell late last night when the sky cleared to reveal a brilliant white moon riding high in the southern sky.
Twenty minutes later clouds returned, but rather than detracting from the scene, they diffracted moonlight into a set of pretty red and blue rings called a corona. Further west I was able to grab a look at the nova in Delphinus the Dolphin.
Remember the nova? It was caught in eruption on Aug. 14 and reached naked eye brightness before slowly fading to its current magnitude of 7.8-8.0. Like every nova, it’s now received a formal name – V339 Delphini, the 339th variable star discovered in the constellation Delphinus.
Bright moonlight made it difficult to get a good fix on the nova last night, so I toted out the 10-inch scope for a look. Wow! While many of you, myself included, have noticed its pink or reddish color, I’m here to report that this star is now a striking red.
It reminded me of a shimmering ruby and was a close match for Hind’s Crimson Star, an amateur astronomer favorite and one of the reddest stars (if not THE reddest) in the sky.
The color comes from the release of what’s called hydrogen alpha light. Energy from the nova explosion gets absorbed by hydrogen gas surrounding the star. Hydrogen atoms then release that energy as red light when they return to their original rest state.
Additional red light comes from dust in the star’s vicinity absorbing shorter wavelengths of light and allowing only warmer colors to pass, much like a sunset. Seeing red means seeing energy transferring hands.
While the nova was too faint to detect color in binoculars a small scope will show it well. I’ve included a brand new map you can use as well as a smaller version of a deeper map from the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) so you can follow the star as it fades below 8th magnitude. I’d love to hear of your impressions of its color. Please take a look and let us know what you see.