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What's in the sky

Stargazing for September


September brings us the beginning of fall, at the "Autumnal Equinox," when the Sun crosses from the Northern to Southern Hemisphere, and when day and night length is approximately equal. That will come on Sept. 22.

And the days are becoming shorter -- on Sept. 1, we'll see sunset at about 7:42 p.m. By the end of the month, the Sun will be down by 6:45 p.m., almost an hour earlier. Sunrise will slip from 6:29 a.m. at the start of September to 7:05 a.m. at month's end.

Jupiter is the only bright planet in good position to view this month. Venus is even brighter than Jupiter, but will be located very low in the west, right after sunset. To see it, you'll need a good view of the western horizon. Venus is very bright, so you'll know if you see it.

As in August, Jupiter will be the bright "star" hanging low in our southern sky. The gas giant is moving away from us now, and will not be as bright as in July and August.

Jupiter is located in a constellation that I've not mentioned often -- Sagittarius, the archer. Most people have a difficult time seeing an archer, but many can detect the outline of a "teapot" in the middle of the constellation. Look just to the right and below Jupiter (near the horizon), and see if you can make out the teapot shape. Sagittarius is located between us and the center of our galaxy. So, when you gaze that direction, you're looking toward the center of the Milky Way. Point a pair of binoculars in that direction and sweep around with them. You may be able to pick up the hazy shapes of several nebula and star clusters that dot that part of the sky, one of the richest areas for viewing deep-sky objects.

On Sept. 8 and 9, the Moon will join Jupiter in the Sagittarius area, on its monthly trip around our planet. Full Moon will come a few days later, on Sept. 15. September's new Moon will be on Sept. 29.

Scan north from Jupiter and Sagittarius, and look for a bright star in the Milky Way, between Jupiter and the Northern Cross (the Cross will be pretty much straight overhead). That star is Altair, which makes up one-third of the "summer triangle" of stars, along with Vega and Deneb. Altair lies in the otherwise faint constellation Aquila, the Eagle. Above and to the left of Altair, look for a small cluster of 4-5 stars which are brighter than surrounding stars. That is the small constellation Delphinius, the dolphin.

September's skies are also interesting if you get up early. The constellations of winter are making their arrival before dawn -- a great time to see the hunter Orion, one of the brightest and most recognizable of our constellations. Yes, it can be tough to get up early, but September mornings are much warmer than January evenings!

Confused, trying to find stars and constellations? Can't find the dolphin? A good star chart is a worthwhile investment. Like a road map, it can help you figure out "where you are." Most bookstores carry inexpensive astronomy books and star charts, and the internet has many good ones. Astronomy magazines, such as Sky and Telescope, or Astronomy, also carry monthly sky charts. If you'd like some help, I plan to hold a stargazing evening class in September, probably later in the month. Call 395-2585 if you are interested.


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