September means sunny, warm days and crisp, clear nights. The latter is perfect for checking out the night sky and the many sights within it this month.
Mars and Saturn are still close together in the early evening sky near the bright red star Antares.
They will be visible until the autumnal equinox. Heads up: The red star Antares can be confused with Mars—its name actually means “rival of Mars.”
Jupiter has now disappeared from the evening sky. It was visible in August, then sank below the horizon as September arrived. What’s neat about the planets is that one can be the dominant object in the evening sky one month and then reappear in the morning sky a month or two later. This is the case with Jupiter, and I will have more on this next month.
Venus is very low in the evening sky, but is getting a bit higher by the day. You will need to have a clear view of the western horizon to see it.
By the end of the month, Venus will be high enough that it will be above some of the ground clutter.
The moon is a dominant player in the mid-month sky. This Friday, September 16, the full “harvest” moon will rise at 7 p.m., just as the sun is setting.
If skies are clear, this is a chance to get some great photos of the moon and the city’s skyline. The moon will rise almost due east. Right now, the weather looks perfect and will give photographers an opportunity for some nice photos.
Once you’re done snapping pictures, grab a pair of binoculars. They’ll illuminate a lot about the surface of the moon and its craters. A good moon map will allow you to know what you’re looking at and try to find some of the more prominent features. Most of us look at the moon briefly but rarely study its intricacies.
Finally, the International Space Station is always worth a look on any clear night, and fun for the whole family.
The flyovers change times dramatically; it might not be practical to get the kids up at 3 a.m. for a viewing, but some of the viewings before sunrise are not so early that you can’t take a trip outside.