The Planets Dance Across September’s Night Sky

September astronomy rocks!

Astronomy News – September is one of the year’s most entertaining and awe-inspiring months to lay on your back on a dark hill and view the delights of the celestial dance in the sky as your ancestors did on a nightly basis. Four of Sol’s dance partners will be in the spotlight in September 2010, taking part in a nightly dance that includes their less observable brothers and sisters, while Mercury will once again dance privately in the eastern sky each morning during September.

Jupiter will be spectacular to view during September
Mighty Jupiter rules the night sky in September 2010

Mighty Jupiter is astronomy royalty

Mighty Jupiter will rule the night’s sky in the Northern Hemisphere during September, especially after he reaches the point in his orbit opposite the sun as seen from SpaceshipEarth1, which space scientists call Jupiter’s opposition. This celestial event will occur on the last day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, on this day the 24 hour period of the day will be evenly separated into night and day, and the evening temperature will still be warm enough to make star-gazing comfortable. The perfect time to set up your celestial time machine to the stars or to just lay back on the cold Earth and watch the celestial dance above you unfold before your eyes as millions of your ancestors have since mankind first perceived the possibilities the night’s sky creates in the human imagination. This will be the most comfortable and best time to view Jupiter in the past 47 years and it will definitely be more comfortable viewing than during Jupiter’s next opposition on October 29, 2011. During Jupiter’s opposition on October 29, 2011, the weather will be a lot of colder than on September 21, 2010, and you’ll have to wait another year to have a look at the largest planet in our solar system.

Mighty Jupiter will be at his brightest when he reaches opposition on September 21, 2010, on this night the King of Sol’s planets will shine brighter in the night’s sky than during any time in the past 47 years. Jupiter will also appear bigger during its September 21, 2010, opposition, subtending an angle of almost 50 “, and shining at magnitude 2.9. This means that after Venus sets at around 8 P.M., mighty Jupiter will be the brightest star-like object in September’s night sky.

Viewing Venus is astronomy fun for all
Venus fluctuates in visible size in September

Astronomy is for lovers

Mighty Jupiter will travel near the border between the constellations of Aquarius and Pisces for several months on both sides of opposition. This region of space-time has few bright stars to outshine Jupiter and the contrast allows viewers to get a good look at Jupiter. The nearest 1st magnitude star, Fomalhaut (Alpha) Piscis Austrini, is over 30 degrees away and mighty Jupiter is easily observed in the night’s sky at this time.

Stargazers in the mid-northern latitudes will find that due to their location mighty Jupiter only climbs halfway up the night’s sky in September 2010. This doesn’t make for the best viewing during Jupiter’s opposition and Jupiter’s altitude will be at its greatest at local midnight time. Stargazers at latitude 40 degrees north will see Jupiter at 48 degrees above the southern horizon. In the northern hemisphere of Earth, star gazers will view Jupiter 1 degree higher in the night’s sky, for each degree of latitude south of 40 degrees north at which they’re viewing Jupiter. In contrast, for each 1 degree north of 40 degrees north at which you observe Jupiter, you’ll see Jupiter 1 degree lower in the night’s sky.

Stargazers that want to view mighty Jupiter as he dances across September’s night sky can so without a pair of binoculars. Stargazers will need a pair of binoculars or telescope to see Uranus, Sol’s seventh planet will lie within 2 degrees of Jupiter throughout September, and can be difficult to view Uranus at this time. Sol’s eighth planet, Neptune, will be found about 30 degrees west of Jupiter and Uranus during September. Stargazers that want to view Venus and Mars should look in the evening twilight near Virgo’s brightest star, Spica.

Neptune is steak and potatoes for the hungry astronomy lover
Neptune can be found 30 degrees west of Jupiter and Saturn in September’s night sky

Planet astronomy is exciting and something that fills a young mind with awe

We’ll begin our journey across September’s night sky during the first week of Earth’s ninth month, Saturn will be dancing in the twilight of the low horizon of September’s night sky. We’ll board our time machine to the stars and planets on September 1 and start the first leg of our celestial “Journey to the Beginning of Time and Space” in human terms by traveling across space and time to Saturn. Sol’s ringed planet will set an hour after the sun on this day and can be found dancing in the sky about 5 degrees above the horizon after the sun goes down.

Venus and Mars can be found dancing in the evening twilight close to Spica in the constellation Virgo

To locate Saturn, use Venus as your visual guide. Earth’s evening star will be visible a few minutes after the sunsets. Look for Spica in the constellation Virgo, to the right of Venus. Saturn and Spica glow at the same relative magnitude, so if you take your time and can find Spica, you should be able to see Saturn in the night’s sky above you. Saturn will be found 20 degrees to the right of Venus in September’s night sky and at around half the distance from the horizon as Venus. Saturn will continue to be viewable from Earth, throughout the first week of September 2010, and observing Saturn from SpaceshipEarth1 will become increasingly difficult after this time.

On September 1, 2010, Venus will be dancing in the night’s sky in line with Spica and Mars. Spica will be in the middle of this dance, and if you continue to watch this celestial dance unfold for two more nights, Spica will dance toward the center of the trio. The trio will begin to fall back from each other as September enters the second week and will form an ever-widening triangle. Venus will shine the brightest during this celestial dance across September’s night sky while Spica will outshine Mars as the trio does their nightly dance across the skies of September.

On September 10 a crescent moon will join this celestial dance. Mars will be viewable about 6 degrees above the Moon while Venus will be to the lower left of Mars. Continue to watch this dance unfold and you’ll see the Moon travel 6 degrees to the left of Venus by the time September 11, 2010, arrives. The Moon will also grow in visible size each night after September 11, 2010, until reaching full moon at 5:17 A.M. EDT on September 23.

Venus is one of the most recognized planets of astronomy

Venus will continue to be viewable in September’s night sky as she dips closer to the horizon each night during September. Venus will shine her brightest on September 23, 2110, when the evening star will shine at magnitude 4,8 and will set an hour after Sol retires for the night. Watch Venus during this time and she’ll draw you into her nightly dance and fascinate you as she goes through obvious changes in visible size and phase. View Venus on September 1 and you’ll see a planet with a disc 29 ” across and at 41 percent illumination. By the time the dance reaches September 30, Venus has slimmed to 19 percent illumination and swelled to about 45 “, a change that can be easily discerned by patient stargazers.

Mars will appear small and dim compared to the Evening Star, the Red Planet will shine at magnitude 1.5 throughout September 2010, which is around 300 times dimmer than Venus will shine. Mar’s disk also measures only 4″ and very little detail will be seen by viewers looking at Mars through a telescope. Mars will become more visible late in 2011, so if you want to have the best view of Mars, you’ll have to wait until this time.

September will be a great time to view Sol’s ninth planet though as Pluto will dance an elegant loop in northwestern Sagittarius, close to an 8th magnitude star that’s only 2.6 degrees north-northwest of 4th magnitude Mu Sagittarii. This will make this 14th magnitude dwarf planet, which some claim isn’t really a planet, easier to view due to its proximity to this relatively bright star. You’ll still require an 8-inch telescope and a dark sky to be able to see Pluto in September’s night sky, but the view is spectacular, and you can get a good idea of the distance involved.

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Caelumi Plensaum gen Lumeninis ” It’s Full of Stars”

 Take a walk into the darkness of a cold, clear night, far from the glare of interfering lights

The first astronomers thought they saw god in the night sky

Astronomy News – the first astronomers –

This image of the far cosmos shows a cosmic maelstrom of hot, glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) called stellar nursery N159 over 160,000 light-years toward the Tarantula Nebula (heic 1402). An HII region about 150 light-years across, this region of space contains scores of hot young stars emitting intense ultraviolet light causing nearby hydrogen gas to glow. Torrential cosmic winds within the heart of this region have carved out ridges, arcs, and filaments from the surrounding material creating a butterfly-shaped region of nebulosity called the Papillon Nebula. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble Space Telescope

Take a walk deep into the darkness of a cold, clear night, far from the glare of interfering human light, and you can gaze upward at a night sky filled with stars-of-wonder, much like your first ancestors did for the first time thousands of years in the past. Lay the back of your head on the cold Earth for a few hours and stare deeply into the vastness of the night sky before your eyes and watch the stars parade across the sky as they have since the birth of spaceshipearth1. Your mind will be sharing common thoughts and feelings of awe, wonder, and smallness with the billions of humans that have witnessed this scene and thousands of generations of star-gazing ancestors that walked the Earth before you.

Modern astronomy has shined the light of discovery on the cosmos

Astronomers suspect rare galaxies, like the one seen above, are extremely dusty and often produce radio jets called relativistic jets when two smaller galaxies merge. This artist’s rendition shows an illustration of just such a merger. Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Thousands of years after the time of these star-gazing ancestors, modern science has managed to shine the light of discovery on many questions concerning the universe we live in and the true role humans play in the grand cosmic-play that’s unfolding before your eyes. The relative age of the Earth has been determined in relation to the universe and scientists delve deeper into the mystery of how the seemingly simple starting ingredients of the cosmic womb can lead to the rich diversity of life on one dusty ball of water far from Nowhere. We will embark on a cosmic journey of discovery from the beginning of time to the present day as we survey the contents of the night sky close to spaceship Earth, measure the scale and majesty of the universe in human terms, and the relative motion of the Earth as it travels through space and time to its ultimate destination. This cosmic journey will allow your mind to develop a larger picture of the universe around you as human scientists understand it and provide you with the knowledge and understanding that can serve as a framework upon which you can build your mental model of the universe and determine your part in the grand cosmic play in which you find yourself. 

An Earth-centred universe

This beautiful image of the sky near the bright star Deneb (just above center) reveals the stars, nebulae, and dark clouds along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy as seen from the northern hemisphere (near Columbia Missouri, USA). Just below Deneb lies the suggestively shaped North America emission nebula. Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, located in the tail of this celestial swan. Cygnus contains the asterism known as the Northern Cross and marks one side of the “Great Rift” in the Milky Way, a series of dark obscuring dust clouds which stretches on through the constellation Sagittarius. Deneb defines the top of the Northern Cross while the body of the cross extends past the upper right corner of the picture. Cygnus also harbors the most famous candidate for a black hole in our galaxy, Cygnus X-1. Credits: Hubble/ESA/NASA

After staring in wonder at the mystery of the stars above your head for a time it will be easy to understand how our ancestors looking upward at a sun, stars, moon and planets that relative to your point of view seem to revolve around spaceship Earth believed the Earth was the center of the known universe and all we survey. The heavenly bodies above your head will appear to circle above you as you stare upwards at the night sky and you won’t feel the spinning motion of the moving Earth beneath you as it spins on its axis through the cold darkness of space and time. These facts make it easy to believe and develop a belief system with the Earth at the center and humans standing on the pedestal of supremacy in the universe.

A sun-centered solar system

In the intervening years since our common star-gazing ancestors first starred upwards in wonder at the night sky, scientists have determined that spaceship Earth is a nondescript little ball of dusty water circling an average sun among an infinity of space and time taking part in a cosmic dance that has continued unabated for billions of years. The human journey through space and time to the present moment in the history of planet Earth and the universe has been filled with pitfalls we as a race have managed to avoid until this moment in the history of space and time. Humans have for the most part managed to change ancient beliefs in an Earth-centered universe that once seemed firmly based in common sense and logic to a more modern view of the universe around us. Science has provided the verifiable facts we need to determine the truth of human experience and strengthen natural bonds to the vast universe you see before your eyes in ways our first star-gazing ancestors could never imagine. This has allowed scientists to develop a cosmic picture of the universe as our senses experience it that can allow us to create a mental picture of the real universe we journey through on a daily basis. Take a cosmic journey of discovery and wonder as we travel through space and time to the beginning of the universe and back again and shine the light of discovery on mysteries deep in the minds and hearts of all humans that have walked the Earth since mankind first starred upward in wonder and awe at the night sky above your head and return to the place of our birth, the stars above us.

The Milky Way galaxy

In terms of the part humans have played and still play in the big picture of the universe, the Earth we live on is one of a number of planets circling the sun we call Sol, along with thousands of asteroids and comets that make up our solar system and the uncountable number of dust particles floating between them. The universal address of the Sol system is the Milky Way galaxy, just past the half-way point from the center of the galaxy to the edge of the galactic disc. Just one of  billions or possibly a trillion stars or more making up the Milky Way galaxy that shines their energy into the cold darkness of space, Sol is an average sun, just like billions you can see looking up into the night sky above you. A nondescript, average-looking ball of hydrogen and helium easily overlooked among the infinity of stars that make up the island of suns space scientists refer to as the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is, in fact, a rather large galaxy in comparison to the galaxies that are part of what space scientists call the Milky Way’s local supercluster of galaxies. Just one of a seeming infinity of galaxies space scientists see as they journey visually into the cold darkness of space and time before you, the Milky Way galaxy is part of the 40 or more galaxies space scientists refer to as the local group of galaxies in the part of the universe we reside. 

Just an insignificant dusty little ball of water

The night sky you see above you might appear to be web-like in nature, with galaxies and clusters arranged in huge sheets and chains of stars that seemingly go on forever and ever. Pockets of stars are dotted across the sky before your eyes, forming giant stellar bodies called superclusters of galaxies that in the case of the Milky Way galaxy are referred to as the local group of the Milky Way galaxy, with vast voids of space and time separating them containing occasional lone galaxies. The universe before your eyes is made up of the sum total of the matter and energy contained within the superclusters and voids between them and there are humans that believe this fact makes human existence and the Milky Way galaxy relatively insignificant in the bigger picture of the universe and space and time. The human ability and desire to continuously delve into the mysteries of the universe around us and improve our place in the cosmic picture could be the difference that tips the balance in favor of humans being a significant contributor to the universe, though, despite our relative insignificance in the cosmic picture before your eyes. 

The miracle of life?

One question you might be pondering as you stare into the vastness of the night sky above your head is how did the young human race come to be born amid the seeming infinity of space and time before your eyes? Modern science tells us we humans are a relative newcomer to the endlessness of space and time and the battle for survival on planet Earth. The journey upon which we embark will examine the evidence presented by scientists to support the belief in the relative insignificance of Sol, the planet Earth, and the miracle of the birth of sentient life on one little ball of dusty water in the universe. The first part of the journey we undertake will take us through the history of the development of present theories and evidence presented by space scientists to support their belief in the relative insignificance of all we know and believe to be true and important.

An expanding universe

Looking upward into the vastness of space and time of the night sky above it isn’t possible to ascertain that space scientists have determined the stars in the galaxies above you are speeding away from each other at a rate that has been measured relative to the universe you see. Scientists have measured the relative rate at which the distances between the galaxies above you’re increasing with the passage of time. The important point in this fact is that if the universe around us is expanding, all of space and time you see above you must have once been closer together. Relative estimates calculated by space scientists indicates this rate of expansion must have started at least 14 billion years in the past. This beginning of the universe space scientists have called the Big Bang, and while overall the universe has continued to expand unabated, there are areas in the vastness of space and time where the force of gravity has overcome the force of expansion created by the Big Bang. This is significant because it means that while the galaxies above you in the night sky continue to speed away from the center of the Big Bang individually, the parts within galaxies are not expanding relative to one another. In contrast, galaxies and galaxy clusters continue to expand relative to one another, despite the force of gravity pulling them together and to form into larger clumps of gas and dust, which space scientists have dubbed stars and planets. The forming of large clumps of gas and dust is part of what space scientists call the life cycle of the stars, planets, and galaxies, and although these stellar bodies are not life forms as space scientists define them, they do go through a life cycle of sorts that scientists have documented and analysed at length.

Read about the present news on the search for life beyond Earth

View the latest in high definition images of the solar system provided by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft

We tell you about the astronomy highlights upcoming for 2014