Skywatching this week promises to be a captivating. There is much to offer for both casual observers and astronomers, as the night sky unveils a series of celestial spectacles, according to this month’s skywatching tips from NASA.
The “ghostly green” Comet Nishimura distinguishes itself as more than a typical space rock. With its enigmatic origins, it now nears its closest point to Earth, visible even without a telescope.
We won’t see Nishimura again until 2317, marking this sighting as a unique “once in a lifetime” event.
Just a month ago, Comet Nishimura’s discovery surprised the astronomical community. Rather than leisurely drifting, the comet zooms at an astonishing 240,000 miles per hour while it whirls around the Sun.
On the morning of September 12, experts anticipate the comet’s nearest approach to Earth, just 78 million miles away. Your best chances to spot it are in the hour following sunset or the hour preceding dawn, directing your gaze to the east-north-east.
Currently, Nishimura resides between the constellations Cancer and Leo. By around 4 am, you can spot the comet slightly above and to the left of the “morning star.”
This week, Saturn and Jupiter remain prominent for observation. Look for Saturn towards the southeast shortly after the sun sets, followed by Jupiter making its appearance a few hours later. Saturn dips below the horizon a couple of hours before dawn, giving Jupiter the spotlight in the sky until sunrise.
In early to mid-September, Saturn showcases its splendor. It recently moved past opposition on August 27 and dominates the Aquarius night sky.
The ringed planet gleams at magnitude 0.4, but dims to 0.3 magnitude this week. Look for it in the southeastern sky after sunset; it rises to its zenith due south by local midnight on September 1. By September’s end, Saturn achieves this position two hours sooner.
On September 26, a bright gibbous Moon sits roughly 3° beneath Saturn. As the autumn sun sets increasingly earlier, the growing darkness offers optimal conditions for late-evening observations.
When viewed through a telescope, sunlight illuminates the northern side of the rings, tilting towards us at 9° in early September. This angle expands to 10° by September 30. The outer A ring’s muted hue contrasts sharply with the brighter B ring, with the dark Cassini Division separating them. Meanwhile, the inner C ring appears fainter and translucent.
Jupiter rises around 10 p.m. in early through mid-September and stands 20° high in the east at the same time on Sept. 30. It starts the month at magnitude –2.6 and is an unmistakable object in the faint constellation Aries.
The best views of the giant planet are in the early-morning hours, when Jupiter stands more than 60° high in the southern sky. Binoculars will reveal some of its moons as well as the 6th-magnitude star Sigma (σ) Arietis.
The star stands due north of Jupiter on the 18th. Jupiter is a favorite of observers because of the wealth of detail in its atmosphere. Skywatchers this week can see Jupiter’s dark equatorial belts, the Great Red Spot, and an ever-changing view as new features regularly appear. This is due to its fast rotation period of less than 10 hours.
Venus, the second planet from the Sun, is also known as the “Evening Star” or the “Morning Star” depending on when it is visible in the sky. This brilliant world shines with a steady, silvery-white light and is often considered one of the most beautiful objects in the nighttime sky. Let’s dive into the specifics of what to expect from Venus in September 2023.
Venus is currently in the constellation of Cancer. The current Right Ascension of Venus is 08h 53m 56s and the Declination is +11° 10’ 30” (topocentric coordinates computed for the selected location: Telluride, CO (US). The current magnitude of Venus is -4.77 (JPL). This weekend, Venus will rise at approximately 4:13 AM in the US Mountain time zone.
After moving between the Earth and the sun on August 13, 2023, radiant Venus will emerge in the predawn sky of September just before the sun rises. Around September 19, 2023, Venus will shine at its brightest in the morning sky, and by month’s end, it will have achieved an elongation of 44 degrees from the sun.
On September 11 and 12, the moon will be positioned close to Venus. At the month’s start, Venus will ascend approximately 2 hours before the sun and by the conclusion of the month, around 3.5 hours prior.
One key event to anticipate in September is Venus’s greatest eastern elongation, which is the point when Venus appears as far from the Sun as it will get for this cycle in the evening sky. At greatest elongation, Venus will be positioned at its maximum angular distance from the Sun, which makes it more visible after sunset. The farther away it is from the Sun’s glare, the longer it can be observed in the darkening sky.
Skywatching this week, viewers will notice that Venus’ brightness will increase from magnitude -4.6 to -4.8. This makes Venus brighter than any other planet or star in the night sky, except for the Moon. Its brightness is attributed to the thick atmosphere of Venus, which is primarily composed of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulfuric acid, that reflects sunlight efficiently.
Its peak luminosity this month extends from September 16 to September 26. Observing through a telescope during September reveals a magnificent crescent that grows in phase throughout the month, even as its size diminishes.
At the dawn of September, Venus was illuminated at just 12 percent. However, by the close of the month, this number will rise to 36 percent. Despite this increase in illumination, due to its retreat of 17 million miles (27 million km) from Earth, Venus will look over a third smaller than its appearance at the month’s onset.
For those using a telescope while skywatching this week, observing Venus can be quite the treat. Throughout September, the phase of Venus will change. Early in the month, it will resemble a half-lit phase. Towards the end of the month, it will wane into a crescent shape. The apparent size of Venus will also grow slightly over the month as it moves closer to Earth in its orbit.
During September 2023, keep an eye out for days when Venus pairs closely with other celestial bodies:
The Moon: Around mid-September, a slender crescent Moon will appear in close proximity to Venus in the early morning sky. This pairing is not only a treat for the eyes but also a favorite for photographers.
Spica: Venus will also have a close encounter with the star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. When these two celestial bodies come close, they’ll form a bright and beautiful pair, visible to the naked eye.
September 2023 is set to be a rewarding month for observers and enthusiasts keen on witnessing the splendor of Venus in the night sky. Its brilliance, paired with other celestial events, promises a month filled with astronomical delights. Whether you’re an experienced stargazer with a telescope or someone who just enjoys glancing up at the night sky, be sure not to miss the dazzling display of our sister planet this month.
The Moon has been a constant source of wonder and intrigue throughout human history. Its cyclical phases provide not just illumination at night but also rhythms that have deep cultural, spiritual, and practical significance to civilizations across the globe.
If you are skywatching this week, one of the Moon’s more subtle phases — the waning crescent — will grace the pre-dawn skies, setting the stage for the New Moon. Let’s explore this enchanting phase in more detail.
The waning crescent phase occurs after the Last Quarter Moon and before the New Moon. During this phase, the lit portion of the Moon visible from Earth decreases each day.
The term “waning” refers to the decreasing amount of the Moon’s illuminated face. The word “crescent” refers to the thin sliver of light visible as the Moon approaches the New Moon phase.
Last Quarter Moon: Early in September, the Moon enters its Last Quarter phase. At this point, the left half of the Moon (for Northern Hemisphere observers) will be illuminated.
Waning Crescent Visibility: Following the Last Quarter Moon, the lit portion visible will progressively diminish, presenting a thinner and thinner crescent each day until the New Moon.
New Moon: By the end of this waning cycle in September, the New Moon will emerge, signaling the start of the next lunar cycle.
Best Time: Skywatching this week of September 10, 2023, the waning crescent is visible in the early morning hours, around midnight in the U.S. Mountain Time zone. As the month progresses and the crescent wanes, you’ll need to rise earlier to catch a glimpse before it is too close to the rising Sun.
Location: A clear eastern horizon will give the best view. Try to find a location away from city lights and tall buildings.
Brightness: The waning crescent can be quite dim, especially as it gets closer to the New Moon phase. Darker environments will provide a clearer view.
In September 2023, the waning crescent Moon will have a few notable celestial encounters:
Planetary Conjunctions: Planets occasionally wander near the Moon in the sky. In September 2023, observers might get to see a close pairing between the Moon and planets like Venus or Mercury. This is especially true given their position in the pre-dawn sky.
Deep Sky Objects: The reduced moonlight during the waning crescent phase is ideal for spotting deep-sky objects. These include such as galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae. If you have a telescope or binoculars, this can be an opportune time to skywatch.
Various cultures and religions attach significance to the Moon’s phases. For instance:
In Islam, the waning crescent Moon, especially when it is a very thin crescent, signals the end of the lunar month and the imminent sighting of the New Moon. This period marks the beginning of a new month in the Islamic calendar.
Some pagan traditions associate the waning crescent with a time of release, reflection, and a period to banish negative energies or habits.
Skywatching this week promises to deliver a beautiful display of the waning crescent Moon. It will set the stage for a serene and peaceful stage for early risers and avid skywatchers.
Whether you observe the Moon for its aesthetic beauty, its astronomical significance, or its spiritual meanings, the waning crescent phase offers a quiet moment of reflection before the hustle and bustle of the day begins.
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