Fall is coming quicker than I want it, but at the same time the change in seasons here in northern Michigan makes life a lot more interesting! Prior to the fall equinox, we have these cool, celestial events to look forward to.
The New Moon offers sky watchers the best opportunity to see specific stars, constellations, galaxies, and more… so long as the night sky is clear of clouds. This month look for the constellations Cygnus, Delphinus, Equuleus, and Veupecula in the northern hemisphere, whereas Capricornus, Indus, and Microscopium will be viewable in the southern sky.
Cygnus, the Swan, is the furthest constellation to the north and easy to spot by the Northern Cross asterism that dominates the constellation - formed by the brightest stars of Cygnus. Also try locating the North America Nebula and the Pelican Nebula within Cygnus. Both sit side-by-side within the Orion Arm of the Milky Way.
Delphinus is a small, diamond shaped constellation representing “the dolphin sent by the sea god Poseidon to find Amphitrite, the Nereid he wanted to marry.” This constellation was first catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy, and is easily recognized by Job’s Coffin, the asterism that outlines its diamond shape.
Equuleus is a faint constellation, and the second smallest in the north known as the little horse since it rises just before the constellation Pegasus, the winged horse. Look for faint star constellation between the brightest star of Pegasus, Enif, and the distinctive diamond shaped constellation Delphinus.
Find the Dumbbell Nebula within the Vulpecula constellation (the Fox). It is the first planetary nebula ever discovered! Large and bright, this nebula is particularly popular for amateur astronomers to view using large binoculars or small telescopes.
Look for ε-Perseids meteor showers to peak, high in the southwestern sky and radiating from the constellation Perseus at a rate of 5 per hour. Not near as cool as the Perseids, but still worthy of a look… these showers will be active between September 5th and 21st and most especially viewable from Detroit, Michigan.
If you live in the northern Michigan region, sign up for the GLGS Star Gaze Party to be held in Gladwin. For more information and to preregister, visit their website.
Look for Neptune to be fully illuminated by the sun and visible all night. This icy, blue planet is approximately four times larger than the earth and has 14 moons all named after Greek sea gods and nymphs. Using a powerful telescope or binoculars, look for a bright blue dot just after sunset in front of the constellation Aquarius, and near the Phi Aquarii star.
This night is also the best night to view the smallest planet in our solar system, Mercury. Named after the Roman God of Speed, it is the fastest planet orbiting the sun at 29 miles per second. Look for Mercury low in the western sky just after the sun sets.
The Harvest Moon rises at 7:54pm EST. It is known as the Harvest Moon due to its timing just before the fall equinox, and every three years the Harvest Moon falls in October instead of September.
This full moon has also been referred to as the Corn Moon and the Barley Moon due to the time of year these crops are harvested.
Taking photos of the full moon can be tricky, but it makes for a fun challenge if you’re up for it. When using a newer iPhone, try some of the smart phone photography tips listed here. If using a DSLR camera, which in my opinion offers the best results, check out, “Quick and Easy Moon Photography Tips.”
The September equinox will occur at 19:11 UTC, 3:21pm EST if you’re living in Michigan, or check out this handy website and select your city to find out the exact time for your location.
The September equinox is referred to as the fall equinox (autumnal equinox) in the northern hemisphere, and the spring equinox (vernal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the time of year that we experience 'around' 12 hours each of daylight and night.
With the change in seasons (equinox) comes the best opportunities to view the Aurora. If you’re a Michigander, check out the Headlands International Dark Sky Park located in Mackinaw City, Michigan for the best opportunity to view and photograph the Aurora Borealis. Keep your ear to the ground for aurora viewing opportunities, and have your bags packed & ready to go as you will not get much warning about when they will be occurring!
If you live elsewhere in the world, the Space Tourism Guide offers Aurora seekers a great source for locating the best viewing area near you - worldwide. Check it out!
Let me know how your night sky watching goes this September, and if you plan to check out the Aurora Borealis, or the Star Gaze Party in Gladwin.
Thanks so much for reading!
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Baker, Nashia, August 10, 2021, See Neptune at Opposition in the Sky This September – It’s the Closest and Brightest the Planet Will Appear, https://www.marthastewart.com/8144228/neptune-at-opposition-planet-viewing-september-2021
Constellation Guide, 2021, Delphinus Constellation, https://www.constellation-guide.com/constellation-list/delphinus-constellation/
Constellation Guide, 2021, September Constellations, https://www.constellation-guide.com/constellations-by-month/september-constellations/
Ford, Dominic, In-The-Sky.org, Guides to the night sky: September ε-Perseids meteor shower 2021, https://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20210909_10_100
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