January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW.

The morning twilight sky is rich with stars as the Winter Hexagon comprised of stars from Orion, his Dogs, the Twins, the Charioteer with Mother Goat, and Taurus, the Bull. Tracing out the Hex starting with Sirius, the brightest star, going clockwise, we encounter Procyon, Pollux (and nearby Castor, not quite first magnitude and therefore not bright enough to be plotted), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, and back to Sirius. Inside the Hexagon lies Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder. The Summer Triangle’s Deneb sinks into the NW. Regulus, Leo’s heart, emerges into ENE early in month and is well up in E by month’s end. By. Sept. 22, emerging Mercury approaches within 15° below Regulus. Brightening rapidly, in its best-of-year morning appearance, Mercury reaches peak altitude just before month’s end. If you’re in southern California, can you spot the second brightest star Canopus before month’s end? It’ll be easier in October, when the star reaches its high point in the south (from Los Angeles and Palm Springs, only 3° up!), 4 minutes earlier each day, in ever darker morning skies. Choose your vantage point carefully, with no high mountains nearby to your south. 

There are two New Moons in September – on the 1st at 2:03 a.m. PDT, and on the 30th at 5:11 p.m. PDT. So this month we can observe a complete cycle of the Moon displaying all its phases, starting as a thin crescent Moon very low in the west at dusk on Sept. 2, waxing through first half of month, until it becomes Full on the 16th. Next, we can follow the waning Moon in the morning sky through Sept. 29. There are many striking events, starting with a close pairing of Jupiter and a young crescent Moon on Friday, Sept. 2. Early that evening, get to a place with unobstructed view toward west by 25 minutes after sunset, and look for Jupiter and the crescent Moon, about 5°-6° lower right of Venus. Binoculars will help! Moon occults or covers Jupiter that afternoon, but the event will be impossible to see in daylight only 18° from Sun.

2016sept03moonandvenus

Click on image to view a larger version. Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12. http://www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/

2016sept08moonsaturnantaresmars

Click on image to view a larger version. Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12. http://www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/

Watch the Moon pass planets, as shown in our selection of illustrations from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar. To subscribe, visit  www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/   By next evening, Sat. Sept. 3, Moon is easy to spot, about 6° upper left of Venus. On Sunday, Sept. 4, look for Spica 5° to Moon’s south (lower left). Binoculars will help. Wait for the sky to darken some, but don’t wait too long, or Spica and Moon will set! Don’t miss Moon sliding past the beautiful triangle of Saturn, Antares, and Mars on evenings of Sept. 8 and 9.

Full Moon on Fri. Sept. 16 comes up within 15 minutes after sunset. It’s fun to watch moonrises, and on next five nights the Moon rises about 40-50 minutes later each night.

Nasco Science

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2016sept2829moonmercuryregulus

Click on image to view a larger version. Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12. http://www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/

Beginning Sept. 17, you can shift your viewing times to mornings, about an hour before sunrise, and catch the Moon passing by bright zodiacal stars: Aldebaran in Taurus on Sept. 21 and 22; Pollux and Castor in Gemini on Sept. 24 and 25; and Regulus in Leo on Sept. 27 and 28. On the Moon’s final morning, Sept. 29, the old crescent Moon will appear low in the east, just 2° below Mercury. 

Tip for telescopic observation of Moon in daytime: When Moon is within 2 days before or after half full – this month, late in afternoons of Sept 7-10, near First Quarter phase, and on mornings of Sept 21-24, near Last Quarter phase, insert a single polarizing filter into a low-power eyepiece of your telescope. Next, while viewing Moon, rotate the eyepiece until the surrounding blue sky appears darkest, increasing contrast of Moon against sky for wonderful views of lunar craters! (Threaded polarizing filters and threaded eyepieces can be obtained from Orion at telescope.com.) I often enjoy setting up my telescope at schools before the school day begins on mornings in autumn, on days when the Moon is near Last Quarter phase and high in the sky.

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 East Lansing, MI and in and around Palm Springs. 

Robert D. Miller did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy. 

Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt, a retired planetarium director now living in the Chicago area, has taught astronomy and sky watching to all ages.  He studied astronomy education at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. Jeff writes an astronomy blog at jeffreylhunt.wordpress.com and can be followed on Twitter at @jeff_hunt.

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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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