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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'Super Harvest Moon' light show expected at sunset tonight

By Sun Sentinel/MCT

The equinox officially arrives tonight at 11:09, marking the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, and spring in the Southern Hemisphere. The full moon will also peak Wednesday night-Thursday morning, making for an extremely bright "super harvest moon."

And as an added bonus, Jupiter will appear right next to the moon.

For the first time in almost two decades, the Northern Hemisphere's autumn is beginning on the night of a full Moon. As the sun sets (7:17 p.m.), bringing summer to a close, the full Moon will rise (6:43 p.m.), heralding the start of fall. The two sources of light will mix together and should create a kind of 360-degree, summer-autumn twilight glow that is only seen on rare occasions.

Grab a pair of binoculars tonight and head outside before sunset, and you'll see a bright light in the sky.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, will be the closest to the earth in 47 years this week, and will dominate the night scene. It will continue to be a bright light in the sky for several more weeks.

Dr. Don Olive, associate professor at Gardner-Webb University, said about every 12 years earth and Jupiter end up on the same side of the sun.

"This time around, we will be slightly closer than normal due to the alignment of our elliptical orbits," Olive said. "This is the closest together the two planets have been since 1963."

Olive said with just a pair of binoculars you can see the planet's red spot as well as its four moons.

"It was this discovery by Galileo that was good supportive evidence that we and the other planets revolve around the sun, not the sun moving around the earth," he said.

Galileo named the moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

"It will be pretty," Olive said. "It will be the brightest thing near the moon for the next couple of days."

To find Jupiter, Olive said to look near the moon for the bright planet, almost three times brighter than the brightest star in the sky, Sirius.

Olive said Uranus will also be at its closest to earth but a pair of binoculars will be needed to see the much fainter planet.

"Look for an emerald-colored disk near Jupiter just beneath the full harvest moon on Sept. 22," he said.

CNN, NASA.gov and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/22/1837517/super-harvest-moon-light-show.html#ixzz10J9gFj8E

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