As we head towards mid-month naked-eye sky-watchers get to witness the moon pose with the lord of the rings and the goddess of love, while now famous comet ISON and a giant asteroid fill telescope and binocular views.
Moon Near Saturn. On Monday, September 9, the ringed planet Saturn will be an easy naked-eye target to find in the sunset sky thanks to the crescent moon parked next door. Only 5 degrees apart–equal to about the width of your three middle fingers at arm’s length–the pair will make for a pretty photo opportunity. Point a small telescope at the gas giant and reveal the concentric rings along with a handful of orbiting moons.
Over the course of the week keep watching Saturn as it quickly closes the gap with Venus, which shines even more brightly just below it.
Comet ISON Coming. In the early morning of Tuesday, September 10, get your first peak at the much anticipated comet ISON (C/2012 S1), which is now visible through backyard telescopes. While the icy interloper is slowly heading towards an uncomfortably close approach with the sun in late November, at this point it still only looks like a faint smudge with a stubby tail.
With amateur astronomers reporting it shines somewhere between 12 and 13 magnitude, ISON will require at least a medium-sized telescope to hunt it down (one with at least an 8- to 12-inch mirror).
For those of you up for the challenge of hunting down faint ISON, nearby bright planet Mars acts as a convenient guidepost. The comet now sits about 3 degrees northeast of the the Red Planet, including the picturesque Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer. (see also Comet ISON: Pop or Fizzle?)
Lunar Wall Visible. The moon officially enters its quarter phase on Thursday, September 12, and offers even the smallest backyard telescope users a chance to view an amazing lunar feature called the lunar wall. A fault line that stretches 75 miles (120 kilometers) in length and is more than 1,300 feet (400 meters) deep casts a distinct straight and dark line through your eyepiece. (Get a finder’s chart and read more about lunar wonders.)
Asteroid 324 Bamberga. Stretching some 140 miles (225 kilometers) across, 324 Bamberga is a giant space rock that will appear in the evening sky of Friday, September 13 as it reaches opposition and its brightest until the year 2035.
Shining at 8.1 magnitude within the relatively dim constellation Pisces, just northwest of the Circlet asterism, the asteroid should be a fine target in binoculars from the countryside.
To positively identify the space rock–which looks like a point of light–record its movement amongst the fixed stars over the course of two nights.
To help track down Bamberga in the evening sky, Astronomy.com offers a good finder’s chart.
Vega at Dusk. On Sunday, September 15, about a half hour after local sunset, sky-watchers along the mid-northern latitude can see the bright, white star Vega near the zenith–shining very close to the center of the overhead sky. The lead star in the constellation Lyra, the harp, Vega sits 25 light years from Earth and is one of the brightest stellar beacons in the entire summer night sky. As each hour passes watch Vega slowly begin to sink towards the northwest and set below the horizon around 4 am local time.
Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?