While September doesn’t hold as many bombastic astronomic sights (eclipses, meteors, and conjunctions, oh my!) as previous months, there’s plenty worth heading out on a clear night to see.
Additionally, this month signals a season change, from summer to autumn in the northern hemisphere and from winter to spring in the southern ones. This means your chances to see the aurora begin to shift hemispheres, and it’s the perfect time to plan your trip to see the Northern Lights this winter.
If you need a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. From the Meade Polaris 130 (under $200) to the Orion Atlas 8 EQ-G GoTo ($2000), you can find one for your astronomy interest and budget.
Here are some of the top astronomic events happening in the night sky in September.
September 6: Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter
On September 6th, Jupiter will make a close approach with the moon. Appearing in the southwestern sky, the young moon (seven days old) and the gas giant will appear about 2°15’ apart. While this is too far apart to view through a telescope, you should be able to see the pair with your naked eyes or aided by binoculars.
September 8: Close Approach of the Moon, Saturn & Pluto
The Moon will meet with Saturn and Pluto on the night of September 8th. You’ll be able to spot Saturn with your eyes, but you’ll need a telescope to spot Pluto. The Moon will pass within 0°02’ of Saturn in the evening sky, and will pass within 0°03’ of Pluto a few minutes later.
Saturn will be quite obvious to spot; to spot Pluto, look for it close to the Moon between it and Saturn. The moon will be 9 days old, so you will have some light pollution but a good telescope will make it possible to spot this large dwarf planet.
September 9: Peak of the Piscid Meteor Shower
If you had an opportunity to view the Perseids meteor shower in August, you might be excited to try and see another set of shooting stars. The Piscid Meteor shower, while not as frequent or intense as the Perseids, peaks on September 9th (and again on September 21st TK).
On September 9th, look for meteors radiating from the constellation Pisces, in the southeastern sky. Meteors may peak at a rate as high as 10 per hour. On September 21st, the second peak of the Piscids will be as frequent as 5 per hour. Viewing the Piscid meteor shower is a good chance to practice your patience!
September 23: September Equinox
On September 23rd, the seasons officially changed. The September Equinox – called the “autumnal equinox” in the northern hemisphere and the “vernal equinox” in the southern hemisphere – signals the point where earth experiences roughly equal lengths of day and night.
While there is no night sky event to view for the equinox, it’s a cool time to consider our planet’s place in the solar system and how we orbit around the sun.
September 24: Close Approach of the Moon & M44
The Moon and Messier 44 (the Beehive open cluster) will pass close to one another in the pre-dawn hours on the morning of September 23rd. They will appear within 0°42’ in the Western sky. As the moon will be 25 days old and only 20% illuminated, the crescent moon won’t interfere with your chance to see this deep sky object.
Do you have questions or comments about these September night sky events? Let us know in the comments.
This post was originally published in August 2018, and was updated in August 2019. Featured image credit: James Jordan via Flickr