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Mike Lynch’s Skywatch: The King and his orbiting court

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Mike Lynch’s Skywatch: The King and his orbiting court
Diagram courtesy of Mike Lynch

While you’re enjoying the full harvest moon this week, check out the King and Queen of the planets in our September skies. As darkness sets in, look for them side by side in the low southeast skies. They’re the brightest star-like objects in that part of the heavens. Jupiter, the king of the observable planets from Earth, is to the left of Saturn and is brighter than the queen. Both reached their closest approaches to Earth last month, but they’re still pretty close, at least relatively. This weekend Jupiter is 386 million miles away, while the tape measure to Saturn would be 861 million miles and change.

Jupiter is by far the largest planet in our solar system, and is mainly a big ball of hydrogen and helium gas. Its polar diameter is around 83,000 miles, and the diameter at the equator is a little over 88,000 miles. Jupiter is fatter in the middle because of its rapid rotation. It only takes 10 hours to make one complete rotation. The resulting centrifugal force works against gravity to cause Jupiter to bulge along its equator. Through a small telescope, it’s possible to see at least some of Jupiter’s darker cloud bands made up of methane, ammonia, and sulfur compounds. You can especially pick up on at least two darker cloud bands on either side of Jupiter’s equator. You may even see some subtle color to them.

You’ll see more bands and detail with larger scopes, and you might even see the Great Red Spot, a giant storm raging on Jupiter. It’s called the red spot, but in reality it will show up in a larger scope with a pale pink hue. The red spot isn’t always available, however, because of Jupiter’s speedy 10-hour rotation. Half of the time, the red spot is turned away from Earth. As I’ve told you before, the longer you gaze at Jupiter through the eyepiece of your scope, the more detail you’ll see. Try to look at it for at least 10-minute shots.

No matter how big or small your telescope is, you’ll get a kick out of watching Jupiter’s four brightest moons; Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. They orbit around the Jovian giant in periods of two to 16 days. Because of their continual movement, they change positions relative to the disk of Jupiter. You may see two on one side and two on the other, or three on one side and one on the other, or all four on one side. On some nights, one or more moons may be either behind Jupiter or camouflaged in front of it. If your telescope is powerful enough, you may see the shadow of a moon crossing in front of Jupiter. It’ll appear as a tiny dot against the backdrop of Jupiter’s clouds. With Jupiter so close to Earth right now, there’s a chance of seeing a moon shadow on Jupiter even with a smaller scope. It’s worth a try.

You can keep up on the position of Jupiter’s four brightest moons by checking out monthly magazines like “Astronomy” or “Sky and Telescope.” There are also websites to help you keep up with the moons. My favorite site is from Sky and Telescope magazine at https://skyandtelescope.org/wp-content/plugins/observing-tools/jupiter_moons/jupiter.html.

A great app from Sky and Telescope Magazine is simply called Jupiter Moons. I have it on my phone. In the diagram, you can see the positions of Jupiter’s moons during the coming week.

Jupiter has more than 80 known moons circling it, and there are probably many more that haven’t been confirmed yet. The four moons available through backyard telescopes are certainly the largest. They’re also referred to as the Galilean moons because the great astronomer and scientist Galileo used these moons to help prove that the sun, and not the Earth, was the center of what was then seen as the universe.

Io is the closest moon to Jupiter, and is a little over 2,200 miles in diameter. A little larger than our moon, it’s the most geologically active body in our solar system. Since it’s only about a quarter of a million miles from the very massive Jupiter, there’s a colossal gravitational wallop on Io from the mothership. The tidal forces are tremendous, and because of the constant stretching, heat builds up in Io’s interior to the point of melting. This, in turn, produces numerous and frequent volcanic eruptions.

The next moon out from Jupiter, Europa, is maybe the best candidate for life in our solar system. A sheet of ice covers Europa, and there may be an ocean of liquid water beneath it, or at least a slushy ocean. Once again, because it’s so close to Jupiter the tidal forces are strong enough to heat Europa’s interior, possibly allowing for liquid water below the ice. Where there is liquid water, there’s a chance of life as we know it.

Callisto and Ganymede are the largest and farthest away from Jupiter, and are both larger than our moon. In fact, Ganymede is even a little larger than Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. Both Ganymede and Callisto are heavily cratered bodies, not nearly as dynamic as Io and Europa.

Enjoy the never-ending dance of Jupiter’s moons!

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Jackknifed tractor-trailer closes Interstate 70 eastbound at Eisenhower Tunnel

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Jackknifed tractor-trailer closes Interstate 70 eastbound at Eisenhower Tunnel

A jackknifed tractor-trailer shut down Interstate 70’s eastbound lanes Sunday morning at the Eisenhower Tunnel, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The eastbound interstate was closed between mile markers 206 and 213 around 8 a.m. and is expected to reopen around 10:15 a.m., according to CDOT.

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Denver barbecue restaurant Smōk opens in Fort Collins

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Denver barbecue restaurant Smōk opens in Fort Collins

Smōk opened a location Monday in Fort Collins at the Foothills shopping district.

This is the third site for the barbecue restaurant and the first outside of its Denver base. The 3-year-old chain has locations in RiNo and at Junction Food Hall.

Executive chef and owner Bill Espiricueta worked with Chef Steve Redzikowski at Acorn in Denver and at Oak in Boulder. Prior to that, he worked at Nobu in Dallas and Bluestem in Kansas City, Missouri.

Smōk’s rotating menu includes burnt ends, turkey, pork spareribs, chicken, brisket, wings, sausages, smoked meat sandwiches and “southern-influenced sides [and] house-made pickles,” a press release said.

“Chef Bill executes an easy-going barbecue-joint vibe with the high expectations of a fine-dining chef,” the release said.

Beverages include beer, “boozy slushies and balanced cocktails.” There are eight TVs and room for 155 people in the restaurant and on the patio.

© BizWest Media LLC

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Woman rescued Saturday after roughly 30-foot fall from Bear Canyon Trail in Boulder

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Woman rescued Saturday after roughly 30-foot fall from Bear Canyon Trail in Boulder

A 74-year-old hiker was rescued Saturday afternoon after falling down a roughly 30-foot embankment on the Bear Canyon Trail, just west of Mesa Trail in Boulder.

According to a Boulder County Sheriff’s Office news release, authorities were notified of the hiker’s fall at 12:23 p.m.

A ranger from City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks was first to arrive and found the hiker on the hillside hanging on to a tree, the release said. The Rocky Mountain Rescue Group arrived and secured the hiker with a rope to keep her from sliding farther down the embankment, according to the release.

The woman was secured into a litter and carried back up the slope to the Bear Canyon Trail, where she was then carried a short distance to an American Medical Response ambulance and taken to a Boulder-area hospital. The rescue took approximately two hours.

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