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September 2013 Urban Observing August 31, 2013

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Comet ISON emerged from behind the Sun mid August, so as September opens we should get our first real idea about how bright it’s going to be. So far, the news isn’t promising – you’ll need dark skies and a good telescope for now (not exactly an “urban” object). There’s still time before November for that to change though, so keep your fingers crossed! It moves from Cancer into Leo this month so look for it in the morning skies. Charts are available at http://www.aerith.net/comet/catalog/2012S1/2012S1.html.

The primary September event is of course the equinox. Autumn officially begins on September 21 at 4:44 PM EDT! My husband believes this means he should have 4 donuts with cider that day. I told him it meant he had to walk 4.44 miles in the woods.

September 8, 8:26 PM, half an hour after sunset. The Moon is next to Venus, not far from Saturn and Spica. Image made using Starry Night.

September 8, 8:26 PM, half an hour after sunset. Image made using Starry Night.

Look for Venus to be the evening star this month. It starts the month in the WSW and drifts to the SW. Look for it soon after sunset though, it’s never very high. On the 5th, it passes less than 2º from Spica. On September 8, Venus and Spica are joined by a young crescent Moon.

As it drifts south, Venus passes Saturn. They are the closest together on the 18th. The night of Sept 9 the crescent Moon passes close to Saturn.

There’s a nice apparition of Mercury mid-month. Look for it low, just south of due west, after sunset beginning around Sept 13. It follows Venus southward, staying close to the horizon. On September 30 it is due WSW but only 6º above the horizon.

Mercury and Spica on Sept 24, 8 PM, low in the west. Saturn and Venus are also close together in the southwest. Image made with Starry Night.

Mercury and Spica on Sept 24, 8 PM, low in the west. Image made with Starry Night.

Jupiter rises after midnight most of the month. Look for it to be close to the Moon on the 28th.

Sept 9, 5 AM, looking ENE. Image made with Starry Night

Sept 9, 5 AM, looking ENE. Image made with Starry Night

Be sure to get out your binoculars or a small ‘scope for the mornings of September 8 and 9 when Mars skims past the Beehive cluster (M44). This cluster is bright enough to see in the pre-dawn twilight, though the darker 5 AM skies are better. If you don’t have too much light pollution, it will actually be a naked eye event. As long as you have the telescope out, be sure to look high in the east for bright Jupiter.

The full Moon occurs on the 19th.

September is a good time of year to start looking for the Andromeda galaxy, or M 31. Find it high in the northeast at 10 PM.  The sharper part of Cassiopeia points toward it, and it sits very close to the 4th magnitude star nu Andromeda.  In dark skies, it is a naked eye object, wider than the full Moon in a telescope. It urban skies, the core usually appears as a small smudge. Not too bad if you consider that the light we’re seeing left that galaxy when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. If conditions are good, you may also be able to see its satellite galaxy, M32.

A constellation map showing the location of the Andromeda galaxy, M31. Image made using Starry Night.

The location of the Andromeda galaxy, M31. Image made using Starry Night.

The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approx...
The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier 32 and 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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