Stargazing can be an incredibly humbling experience. Simply looking at the sky on any given night allows one to not only marvel at the vastness and splendor of our universe, but also to peer back at the history of it.
Because it takes time for the light from an object to reach our eyes here on earth, the light from the stars above us every night is actually from the past. For the moon, it takes about 1.3 seconds for the light to reach earth, so we will always see the moon as it was 1.3 seconds ago. A random speck of light in the sky could be dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of light-years away. For instance, Polaris, the North Star, is 323 light-years from earth. Gazing upon it is seeing light that is older than the United States as a country.
Starting this summer, AY will be outlining the night sky in these easy to digest guides every month, highlighting the biggest and “brightest” celestial events to help better prepare you for stargazing activities; whether it is as simple as looking up when taking the dog outside, or as official as planning date night – we have you covered.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
Photo of the Milky Way by Tony Milligan.
First Quarter: September 5
Full Moon: September 13*
Third Quarter: September 21
New Moon: September 28
*The full moon of September is often referred to as the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon nearest the September Equinox. This year’s Harvest Moon is also the second and final Micro Moon of 2019, or a full moon at apogee – the furthest point from earth.
None this month, but be sure to check back in October for an unusual shower that is best viewed in the early evening, rather than the early morning, making it a much more accessible event that you do not have to wait up all night to fully enjoy.
Planets and Special Events
“End of Harvest Milky Way” by Tony Milligan.
September 6: Close Approach of the Moon and Jupiter
Another month, another meet up between Jupiter and our moon. The two will ascend to within about 2 degrees of each other just after the moon reaches its first quarter phase. Look to the southern horizon in the constellation Ophiucus at about 8 p.m.
September 8: Close Approach of the Moon and Saturn
And again, like the past few months, Saturn and the Moon will have their own time in the spotlight a few days after Jupiter’s. Saturn will snuggle in to within less than a degree of the moon, making it not only a naked eye event but also something that will fit within the field view of a telescope or binoculars. The pair will be in the constellation Sagittarius and should be observable by around 8 p.m.
September 10: Neptune at Opposition
Image courtesy of Derekscope (not to scale).
This month, Neptune is at opposition with the Sun and at perigee (closest point) with the Earth. This is one of the best times of the year to view our distant neighbor, but without the help of a telescope, it will barely appear as more than just a speck of light in an already crowded sky. Look to the constellation Aquarius in the south-east at around 9 p.m.
September 23: September Equinox
Image courtesy of In The Sky.
The first day of autumn for us in the northern hemisphere, and the first day of spring for those in the southern part of the globe, will occur on September 23 this year. The September, or autumnal, equinox is when the sun passes directly across the equator during the earth’s daily revolution, meaning that nearly every part of the world will receive almost exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.
September 25: Comet C/2018 W2 (Africano) Reachest Brightest Point
If you want to see a comet in September, this is one of the best times to do so. The comet C/2018 W2 (Africano) is forecasted to be at its brightest in our night sky. Though the brightness of comets is often dull and volatile to predict, it should be readily observable to those who are fortunate enough to have a telescope or good binoculars within their reach. Look to the eastern horizon as soon as night falls.
In the News
Artist’s concept of the ocean beneath Europa’s surface, courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.
NASA announced on August 19 that it had cleared the Europa Clipper mission to move onto its final design phase, which will be followed by construction and testing, keeping it on pace for an early- to mid-2020s launch.
The mission, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, will involve a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter while it gathers data on one of the planet’s icy moons, Europa. Often hailed as one of the most likely places where extraterrestrial life might exist in our solar system, the moon Europa has shown evidence of having an ocean of liquid water beneath its thick, icy surface. Europa Clipper will gauge the habitability of the moon.
“Harvest Time Milky Way” by Tony Milligan.
September 4: Skyspace Nights: Star Party
Time: 8 – 10 p.m.
Location: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR 72712)
September 7: CAAS, Pinnacle Mountain State Park Star Party
Time: 7:30 – 10:30 p.m.
Location: Pinnacle Mountain State Park (11901 Pinnacle Valley Road, Little Rock, AR 72223)
September 7: SCAS, Moons of the Solar System
Time: 7 – 10 p.m.
Location: Hobbs State Park (20201 E Highway 12, Rogers, Arkansas 72756)
September 21: CAAS, Buffalo River Star Party – Tyler Bend
Time: 7 – 11 p.m.
Location: Tyler Bend – Buffalo River National Park (Searcy 281 Highway, Saint Joe, AR 72675)
September 28: Village Creek State Park Star Party
Time: 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Location: Village Creek State Park (Co Rd 754, Wynne, AR 72396)
Deep Space Date Night
Since there are no substantial meteor showers this month, the best night for a celestial date is whichever of the various star parties are closest to you. Make it an astronomical night that your significant other will not soon forget.
The best stargazing results are always going to be under the darkest of skies. So, if you can, find a place as far away from city lights as possible when checking out August’s night sky.
Dark Sky Arkansas has a fantastic interactive map of some of the best dark spots and observation sites around the Natural State.
Also, if you have not already, download an app to your phone that helps you find celestial objects and constellations in real-time. Sky Guide and Night Sky are both available for free and are extremely easy to use.
Astrophotography courtesy of Tony Milligan. All photography rights, other than those provided for use by AY About You, belong to him.