Wildlife

5 Sky Events This Week: Red Planet, Bull’s Eye, and Jovian Giant

Three neighboring worlds align this week when Mars, the moon, and Jupiter form a a diagonal lineup in the early morning skies. Credit: NASA/A. Fazekas/Starry Night Software

Heading into the final days of September and first week of autumn sky-watchers will find the moon dancing with celestial luminaries like planets and stars.

Mercury and Spica. Within a half hour after sunset on Tuesday, September 24, look toward the very low southwest horizon for planet Mercury making a remarkably close encounter with Virgo constellation’s brightest star Spica.

The cosmic pair will appear to squeak past each other—well within 1 degree—the closest conjunction between a planet and such a bright star in 2013.

The innermost planet, Mercury will make an unusually close pass by the bright star Spica after sunset on Sept. 24th. Bright planets Venus and Saturn will act as a convenient guidepost to tracking down this challenging conjunction. Credit: A.Fazekas/Starry Night Software
The innermost planet, Mercury will make an unusually close pass by the bright star Spica after sunset on Sept. 24th. Bright planets Venus and Saturn will act as a convenient guidepost to tracking down this challenging conjunction. Credit: A.Fazekas/Starry Night Software

This cosmic duo, however, will be a real observing challenge because of its proximity to the horizon—so find a location that has a totally clear view of the southwest horizon and use binoculars. Also use Venus and Saturn as a convenient guidepost to tracking down Mercury/Spica. They will be about 22 degrees apart—little more than the width of two side-by-side fists at arm’s length.

The further south your observing location, the higher the pair will appear in local skies.

 

Moon and Aldebaran.  Near midnight on Tuesday, and into the early morning hours of Wednesday, September 25, look towards eastern and southern skies for a stunning waning moon passing the left of the red giant Aldebaran—the bright “eye” of Taurus.

The near quarter moon joins Aldebaran - the brightest star in the constellation Taurus - the bull on Sept.24/25. Credit: A.Fazekas/Starry Night Software
The near quarter moon joins Aldebaran–the brightest star in the constellation Taurus–on Sept. 24/25. Credit: A.Fazekas/Starry Night Software

Earth’s natural satellite will appear less than three degrees from the 68 light-year distant star—equal to the width of your three middle fingers at arm’s length.

Continue watching the moon during daytime Wednesday as it glides through the southern sky and try your hand at catching sight of Aldebaran with the help of binoculars.

 

Last Quarter Moon. Last-quarter moon occurs on Thursday, September 26 at 11:56 pm EDT (Friday, 3:56 am UT). The moon rises in the east around midnight, so look for it passing between winter constellations Gemini, to the left, and Orion, on its right.

 

Moon joins Jupiter. At dawn on Saturday, September 28 the waning crescent Moon glides only five degrees south of the beacon-like Jupiter. The two will appear particularly pretty with binoculars, which if you hold steady enough will show off the gas giant’s four biggest moons.

 

Worlds Align. By next morning, Sunday, September 29, early bird skywatchers gazing towards the eastern sky will notice that the moon will have sunk between bright Mars, near the eastern horizon, and Jupiter, more than halfway near the zenith, forming a diagonal alignment of neighboring worlds not to be missed.

 

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

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.
  • Ray

    Times and degrees, rather than approximations, would be more useful.

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