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Look to the Bitterroot Skies at Night

milky way
Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, dominates the night sky. (Mike Daniels, Townsquare Media)

The night skies are always inviting to amateur astronomers in the Bitterroot Valley. In the early morning, the constellation Orion is emerging over the Sapphire Mountains and the predictions for Northern Lights are good for later this week. Unfortunately, the weather guys are expecting more clouds, too.

This is an interesting week for space news, by the way. We’re all familiar with the term “Blue Moon,” which is a second full moon in the same month. There is also a “Black Moon,” which is the second new moon in the same month. That’s when the moon is completely in the shadow of the Earth, just before you start seeing that slim crescent moon in the sky. The Black Moon happens at 6:11 p.m. MDT Friday, September 30.

Wednesday through Friday is a good time period for possible Northern Lights. A coronal hole on the Sun’s surface is sending some energetic particles toward our planet.

Friday is also the day the Rosetta spacecraft will finish its examination of Comet 67P. This is the spacecraft that sent a little lander named Philae onto the comet a while back. The European Space Agency assumed the lander bounced into a crevasse on the comet and quit working. They were right. Mission specialists finally found it in a dark, shadowy area just last week.

Meanwhile, the main Rosetta spacecraft has been orbiting Comet 67P, taking lots of photos and measurements. But Friday, controllers will send it into a decaying orbit and it will crash land on the comet, taking photos all the way down. It’s not designed for a landing, so ESA officials expect it break apart upon landing. We’ll know Friday.

Two possible oceans are being studied by NASA scientists. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory held a news conference this week, where they discussed the latest findings of a probable underground ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

And on the edge of the Solar system, scientists have said there’s a high probability of an underground ocean on little Pluto. And they think it might be salty water, which is unexpected that far from the Sun.

And finally in space news, a new computer program is up and running to try to find asteroids that might impact Earth. The “Scout” computer program will gather fresh information about asteroids that haven’t been tracked by other programs such as “Sentry.” It also works in conjunction with the Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts.

There’s lots happening in space. Look up once in a while.

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