In The Mid-September Sky

Hey, sky fans! This is a late post because, as with so many things, the best-laid plans often go awry. So, here I am with my daughter sitting to my left haranguing me because I allowed her to get some One Direction lyrics wrong… two years ago. I thank you for your continued support.

I was actually hoping to post this earlier, but some fast-moving clouds, leftovers from Tropical Storm Hermine, moved in and kept me from getting a look at tonight’s southern-southwestern sky, where the Moon, fresh off its visit with Venus and Jupiter earlier this week, is on its way westward toward Scorpius.

I was really looking forward to it, too, but it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. Then it occurred to me that if the clouds could move in quickly, they could also move out quickly. So, I tried again a few minutes ago and got it! A gorgeous view was right in front of me of our Moon sitting in a friendly line just to the west of Saturn and Mars.

I know it’s late, but if you can still make it outside tonight, try to get a look at the southern or southwestern sky and make note of where the Moon is relative to the two planets and the star Antares, which is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. The planets will be unmistakably bright, the brightest things around other than the Moon.

Around this time of year, Antares starts to loosen its grip on that part of the sky, and kind of falls into the part where you can say it’s getting to be too low to see. So, this is mostly, but not entirely, a Moon-Saturn-Mars thing. If you can see Antares, great! It’ll be in a modest equilateral triangle, with the two planets across the top, and the star twinkling at the bottom. When you find it, hold your fist out at arm’s length to the Moon’s left and then tack on, let’s say, a finger or two at the left end. As the Moon creeps its usual half-degree or so per hour across the sky, it’ll cover that distance between now and nightfall tomorrow.

If you can’t see anything Wednesday, that’s okay. Thursday (Sept. 8) is the treat. By then, the Moon will have arrived in Scorpius just before its first quarter phase, the same point in its orbit it was in when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin rolled up their picnic blanket and, with the help of a ball-point pen and some quick thinking, sped away from Mare Tranquillitatis.

The Moon will be shining higher in the sky. Just below it will be Saturn, with Antares below that. Mars will be off to the left, slowly trying to split the scene. Having so many familiar and neighborly faces in view will make for quite a gorgeous sight. I hope you have a chance to take a look. I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of these alignments. With the planets in the evening skies, it’s great to watch the solar system in motion as the Moon travels around us.

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The southwest skies, Sept. 7-9, 2016

After tomorrow, the Moon continues higher and later in the sky on its way to this month’s full Moon on the 16th.

Here’s a quick sketch of what you’ll see tonight and tomorrow. I hope you have a few minutes for it. As always, clear skies, everyone!

 

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