March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Celestial Highlights for September 2014

Posted: Friday, August 29th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor with twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Mars forms colorful pairs with other objects in the southwest evening sky in September, as the red planet moves from just over 5° from yellowish Saturn on Sept. 1, to within 5° of red Antares Sept. 22-Oct. 3. Saturn with rings tipped 22° from edge-on is impressive through a telescope, if you catch it before it sinks low.

Some 40 minutes before sunrise, the brightest planet Venus can still be spotted low, north of east early in month, but in twilight, to lower left of bright Jupiter. The gap between them is 15° on Sept. 1 and widens by 1° daily, as Jupiter ascends higher, while Venus sinks deeper into the solar glare.

The crescent Moon near a planet is an attractive sight. Catch a waning crescent near Jupiter at dawn on Sept. 20, and a waxing crescent very near Saturn at dusk on Sept. 27. On Sept. 29, the lunar crescent passes above a pair of red objects, Mars and Antares, just over 3° apart.

The Moon appears in Sagittarius, not far from the center of our galaxy, on Sept. 3 and 30. Those are not good nights for viewing the Milky Way! Neither is the night of Full Moon, Sept. 8. By Sept. 13, moonrise occurs two hours after the end of twilight, allowing dark moonless skies for excellent views of the Milky Way for the next two weeks.

September 2014 at dusk

The five brightest objects in evening mid-twilight (ignoring Mercury near mag. 0, but very low in W to WSW) are: Arcturus and Vega, mag. 0.0; Saturn (+0.6); Mars (+0.6 to +0.8) fading to equal Altair (+0.8).

Evening planets: Saturn is in SW to WSW, lower as month progresses. Mars starts this month just over 5° lower left of Saturn and 18° right of Antares, heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Watch Mars move! On Sept. 5 and 6, look for a nearly vertical “fence” of three stars about midway between Mars and Antares; it marks the head of the Scorpion. By Sept. 12 Mars is equidistant from Saturn and Antares, 11° from each. On Sept. 17, Mars passes just half a degree north of 2nd-mag. Delta Scorpii, the middle star of the “fence”. Mars passes 3° N of Antares on Sept. 27 and 28, with a crescent Moon nearby on the next evening. Compare color and brightness of Mars and Antares (“rival of Mars”) for several evenings around their closest approach. Mercury is highest at midmonth, but a paltry 3° up in mid-twilight from southern California in this poor apparition, and even worse from farther north. It passes 0.6° S of Spica on Sept. 20. Binoculars, very clear skies, and an unobstructed horizon are needed to observe this event.

Stars: Spica departs in WSW. Arcturus remains prominent in W, and Antares sinks toward SW. Vega, leading star of the Summer Triangle, passes nearly overhead, with Altair and Deneb remaining east of the meridian (north-overhead-south line) at mid-twilight through September. Fomalhaut rises in SE at month’s end.

Moon in evening sky is found near Mars and Saturn on Aug. 31; near Antares on Sept. 1; near Saturn on Sept. 27; and near Mars and Antares on Sept. 29. On evenings following the Full Moons of late summer and early fall, we usually get a “Harvest Moon effect”, when the Moon rises not very much later each evening. But this year, the perigee on Sept. 7 and low inclination of the Moon’s orbit increase the daily time delay over what it can be for the Harvest Moon in most years. (The year-round long-term average delay is 50 minutes.)

This month, the smallest delay for Palm Springs is an unremarkable 41 minutes.) For those who enjoy catching a “big” reddened Moon as it first appears, here are moonrise times (in PDT) for Palm Springs, and Moon’s position along the horizon. (Mountains can delay the appearance by several minutes.)

Mon. Sept. 8, 6:47 p.m., 3° S of E

Tue. Sept. 9, 7:29 p.m., 3° N of E

Wed. Sept. 10, 8:10 p.m., 8° N of E

Thu. Sept. 11, 8:51 p.m., 13° N of E

Fri. Sept. 12, 9:34 p.m., 17° N of E

Sat. Sept. 13, 10:19 p.m., 20° N of E

Sun. Sept. 14, 11:06 p.m., 22° N of E

Mon. Sept. 15, 11:55 p.m., 23° N of E

Sun rise/set and Moon rise/set times for any location and much more are available at the Astronomical Applications Department of the U.S. Naval Observatory, at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/index.php Remember to add one hour when applicable, if the data doesn’t already include a correction for daylight saving time.

September 2014 at dawn

The four brightest objects are: Venus near mag. –4, but in bright twilight and sinking out of sight at our mid-twilight viewing time during third week; Jupiter near mag. –1.8 and climbing in the east will take over the reigns. Next in brightness are Sirius in SE to SSE, and Capella nearly overhead.

The latter two are the southernmost and northernmost stars of the huge “Winter Hexagon”, in clockwise order, Sirius, Procyon, Pollux (and Castor, not shown), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, and back to Sirius. Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder, resides within the Hexagon. Regulus, the heart of Leo, the Lion, follows the Hexagon across the sky, as if to chase his next meal, with the twins of Gemini, Orion and two dogs, Auriga, the Charioteer with Capella, the mother goat, and Taurus the Bull as possible menu options. Find emerging Regulus just 0.8° south (lower right) of Venus on Sept. 5. The only other star of first magnitude visible in September’s dawns is Deneb in NW, the last star of the Summer Triangle to set.

Before morning twilight brightens, use binoculars to find the Beehive star cluster, 3° above Jupiter on Sept. 1, widening to 8° upper right of Jupiter at month’s end, as the planet moves eastward against background stars.

Moon in morning sky appears near Aldebaran on Sept. 14 and 15; widely (11°) N of Betelgeuse on Sept. 16; between Procyon and Pollux on Sept. 17; S of Jupiter on Sept. 20; and within 5° S of Regulus on Sept. 21.

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— Resources —

On next month’s eclipses: Get Ready for October’s Two Eclipses [link]

For an overview of this school year, with some activities to start right away:

Getting started in skywatching (for school year 2014-2015) [link]

For a detailed account of sky events for this entire school year:

Summary of Sky Events for the School Year 2014-2015 [link]

Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets. As stars and planets come and go in morning and evening skies and display beautiful pairings and groupings, students can model these activities with the aid of these four items: Two planet orbit charts, Mercury through Mars [link]; and Mercury through Saturn [link]; a table of data for plotting planets on orbit diagrams, Heliocentric Longitudes of the Planets [link]; and an activity sheet with15 questions on star and planet visibility in 2014-2016, Seasonal Visibility of Stars, and Visibility of Planets in 2014-2016, from positions of planets in their orbits [link].

Enjoy the changing sky!

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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