By Ken From
– Star Enthusiast
For the News
September evenings offer one of the best times of the entire year for star gazing as the night sky appears earlier in the evening while some of summer’s warmth lingers into the last hours of each day. Many folks trace their interest in astronomy to harvest time when they have stood in the field under a canopy of stars while waiting for the combine. The warm evenings with the fresh scents of harvest along with the grandeur of the Milky Way flowing overhead invoke special feelings that last a lifetime.
Through the summer months Jupiter has dominated the southern sky and continues to shine brightly this fall in the early evening. A good pair of binoculars or small telescope reveal Jupiter’s four moons and their nightly dance around the king of planets. Towards the end of September, Venus becomes more noticeable in the western sky as the sun sets. In the months ahead it will outshine even bright Jupiter to become the brightest celestial object after the sun and moon. Now would be a good time to mark Dec. 1 on your calendar when Jupiter and Venus converge with a crescent new moon in the west as the sun sets.
Last December, Mars appeared as a bright reddish star but now has circled toward the far side of the sun and can be spotted with binoculars just below Venus on Sept. 11 in the evening twilight. Unfortunately the “Mars Myth” circulated again this year claiming that Mars would appear as bright as the full moon is not true. Mars is mostly invisible to the naked eye but dimly hangs around for a little bit longer like a guest who doesn’t know when to go home. Our favorite planet, Saturn, was directly behind the sun on Sept. 4 but rapidly moves into the morning sky and can be spotted just before sunrise in the eastern sky. In Saturn’s slow journey around the sun, its rings are now viewed more “edge on” and it will be a couple of years before we again see those “wide open” rings.
During the summer and fall months we are looking toward the centre of our Milky Way galaxy as we follow the river of light across the sky and down to the southern horizon. The galactic centre is in the south just above Sagittarius, the teapot. You will want to examine this area with binoculars, as numerous star clusters and nebulas stand out in the midst of a rich star field. A modest telescope will reveal the Trifid, Lagoon and Swan nebulas clustered with several star clusters in a small patch of the night sky.
The fall equinox occurs on Sept. 22 with our nights becoming longer than days after this time. The harvest moon occurs on Sept. 15. Take advantage of the month with its warmer evenings to enjoy the wonders of our night sky.