Stargazers, especially those new to the hobby, are in for a real treat as the Moon acts as a convenient guidepost to some real sky showpieces the next few nights.
First on September 16th after local 11 pm, look for the waning gibbous Moon rising in the low eastern horizon. It will be pairing up with the largest planet in the entire solar system, Jupiter. The gas giant, located some 680 million kilometers away shines like bright creamy colored star to the lower left of Luna. The cosmic pair will look striking to the naked eye but binoculars or telescopes will reveal details in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter- even showing off its four largest moons. If you get clouded out – no worries- you get another chance to see the Moon next to Jupiter the next night, September 18. The Moon will now have jumped to the upper left side of the planet.
By Sept.18th the Moon will tuck under the most brilliant and famous star cluster in the entire sky, the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster. With up to seven stars visible to the naked eye in suburban skies, and scores more through binoculars, the Pleiades is 400 light years away and is one of the closest clusters to Earth. Try using binoculars to cut through the lunar glare to see details in this cosmic jewel box.
Finally by September 19th the Moon will join one of the brightest stars in the entire heavens, Aldebaran. A golden star sitting 65 light years away, it is the lead member in the constellation Taurus, and represents the eye of the celestial bull.
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.