Sunday, September 8, 2013

This Week's Night Sky: September 9-15

Let's hope the skies stay clear, because as always, we're in for a treat!

Sunday, September 8
The Moon lies 2° below bright Venus after sunset
This morning is the perfect time to look for Mars. The Red Planet is close to the Beehive Cluster(M44) in Cancer the Crab both today and tomorrow, and at magnitude 1.84 it shines 100 times brighter than the cluster's brightest stars. Since the pair are positioned so close together, it's best to use binoculars or a telescope with a wide field of view to see the pair. At 5 a.m. local time they lie 15° above the western horizon.

Look out for yet another conjunction in the west/southwest shortly after sunset, as a young 10% waxing crescent lies roughly 2° below bright Venus. The pair will be visible together for almost an hour after sunset, so make sure you have a clear view of the western horizon, for what should be a great sight!

Monday, September 9

Keep a look out for spectacular Venus after sunset all this week. The planet shines at a dazzling magnitude -3.57 and is easily visible to the naked eye. Make sure you have an unobstructed view of the western horizon to see how bright Venus is. A telescope will reveal its 75% illuminated disc.

Saturn is tricky to find this month, but you can use the 20% illuminated Moon to spot the ringed planet this evening. For observers in Ireland, Saturn lies 2° above the Moon, and the pair are visible for over an hour after sunset. Train your eyes towards the Moon using a small telescope and reveal its ancient mountains and craters casting shadows on the lunar surface. If you want to focus on Saturn, use a telescope to gaze at the gas planet's magnificent rings, which are tilted 18° towards our line of sight.

Tuesday, September 10

Take advantage of Moonless morning skies to see the Zodiacal light. From the Northern Hemisphere, the time around the autumnal equinox is the best for viewing this spectacle. You will need to be in a dark sky location with a clear view of the eastern horizon to observe the cone-shaped haze. Optimum viewing should be just before twilight at 5 a.m. LT.

Mars is also visible in the morning skies all month long. It rises just after 3 a.m. Local Time and appears near the Beehive Cluster in Cancer the Crab. Mars shines nearly 100 times brighter than the cluster's brightest stars, and the pair lie just a degree apart this morning. A pair of binoculars or even a small telescope is the best choice to view this spectacle.

Wednesday, September 11

Jupiter steals the show, as the biggest planet in our solar system rises this morning at around 1 a.m. Local Time, shining at a brilliant magnitude -1.64. A pair of binoculars should reveal the planet's four moons; Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Point a telescope at the planet and observe its two main cloud bands, and if the time is right and your telescope is big enough, you should be able to see Jupiter's Great Red Spot. By the end of the month Jupiter rises at around midnight, setting it up for some spectacular winter evening viewing!

Thursday, September 12
The path of Comet ISON in September

The much anticipated Comet ISON(C/2012 S1) recently came inside the orbit of Mars, marking its arrival into the inner solar system. Comet hunters need a 10-inch or larger telescope to spot the comet, which currently glows at around 13th or 14th magnitude. It lies around 3° to the north-east of Mars this week, but once again- a large telescope is key to spotting it!

A September morning sky wouldn't be the same without the Great Nebula in Orion. At magnitude 4.0, it is easily visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy patch in the east, but binoculars or a small telescope will reveal its true beauty!

Friday, September 13

If you find yourself away from the city lights, gaze overhead to observe the humbling Magellanic Cloud which spans its way across the sky. Dark skies reveal the haze of millions of stars scattered throughout our Milky Way galaxy. Point a pair of binoculars or a wide-view telescope towards the constellation Cygnus the Swan, to reveal it's main star cluster- M39.

The stunning Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius
If you have a clear view of the south, try and find the Lagoon Nebula, which is visible at magnitude 5.80. At 9:30 p.m. Local Time it lies just over 12° above the horizon in the constellation Sagittarius. Binoculars will reveal the nebula's oval shape, and you should be able to make out a definite core.

Saturday, September 14

The ever-present Plough/Big Dipper is visible all night long in the northern sky. Use the two stars at the front of the dipper; Merak and Dubhe to draw a line towards Polaris, the North star.

The Pleiades shine with a distinctive blue hue, rising shortly after 10 p.m. local time. Another deep sky object which really makes you think how mind boggling huge the universe really is, you should be able to see several stars packed tightly together with the eye alone- the famous "Seven Sisters" always give you a sense of perspective. A good set of binoculars are the most popular choice of equipment to observe this gem!

Sunday, September 15

The Moon reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around the Earth, at 5:31 p.m. Irish Standard Time. Our natural satellite rises at 5:30 p.m. Local Time, and is visible as a 70% waning gibbous until shortly after 2 a.m. A telescope will reveal its ancient craters and mountains casting shadows on the lunar surface in incredible detail.

Stay tuned to Irish Space Blog for all the latest news in the world of space exploration and astronomy! This Week's Night Sky will be published every Sunday, giving an insight into what you should be looking out for in the week ahead. We hope you like it!

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