On and Off Earth

As September kicks off (high school football is back!), we are still enjoying the long daylight of summer, 13 hours on the 1st, but will lose more than two minutes of light each day as our tilted orbit moves us steadily into fall’s growing darkness. Fall begins at 3:21 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on the 22nd, the Fall Equinox, the moment when our nearby star is directly over our planet’s equator.

Spring and summer’s long hours of direct sunlight have been heating the waters of the northern oceans for five months and they are hot! Earth has a simple mechanism to move that heat poleward: hurricanes. Hurricane Ida exploded into a Category 4 monster fueled by that heat in the bath-like waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane season peaks annually around the 10th and while Julian and now Kate spin harmlessly well out in the Atlantic, next on the list is Larry, growing in potential, ready to twist the ocean’s heat into the next storm. Stay prepared and hurricane-aware, as we are far from done with the 2021 season.

Less daylight means more darkness. Couple that with, hopefully, cooler temperatures and September offers fine evening sky viewing. Venus remains the brilliant beacon in the west after sunset and is just below and left of a thin crescent moon on the 9th. As the sky gets darker, look for earthshine lighting the dark side of the moon – sunlight reflected off Earth to the moon and back to your eyes.

A thicker crescent moon is just above the red supergiant, Antares (Mars, red, rival star), the heart of Scorpio on the 12th. Moving farther along the ecliptic, the arcing plane of our solar system, the still-waxing but now gibbous moon passes beneath Saturn on the 16th and brighter Jupiter the next night. The Full Harvest Moon is on the 20th. The sun moves along the ecliptic from Leo into Virgo on the 17th. Hope for, occasionally, clear skies!

This September, on the 11th, we mark the 20th anniversary of a very bad day in the USA, a sad day, really, for the entire world. Just like for “our” earthquake, my everlasting memory of 9/11 began in my classroom, when I first heard the still-tentative news of planes flying into the twin towers. It was hours later when I saw the actual images of the terrorist attacks, to be etched in my memory forever.

Since that tragic day, a new generation has been born, 1.5 billion more humans, with no memory, just stories of 9/11. They are, unfortunately, now creating their own memories of the events long ago, as the lingering aftermath of that terrible day remains headline news.

Even more tragic, with a readily available, safe and effective vaccine, more Americans will die from COVID-19 today than on this same day last year; more every three days than terrorists killed on September 11, 2001.

The rules on Earth remain the same; to deal with the daily, unending change every creature must adapt, migrate or risk death. Those who continue to ignore those simple rules do so at their own peril, but today, they increase the risks for the rest of us, too. Be smart, stay safe out there.

Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. He can be reached at oldrockguy@gmail.com.

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