As the last night of August is idly passing by, star gazers can say goodbye to the spectacular celestial displays of the summer and start looking forward to autumn’s astronomical treats.
And, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, there will be quite a few alluring sights to behold on the September night sky.
“Planets on parade, eerie lights, and a change of seasons await sky watchers this month,” National Geographic also reports, hinting at the September equinox.
Right at the beginning of the month, the view will be dominated by four of our brightest planets: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Picking up right where they left off in August, the four planets are gearing up for some of their most “outstanding” appearances of the year, notes JPL’s Jane Houston Jones.
Sky watchers hoping to sneak a peek at the shining planets can spot Jupiter and Venus near the Libra constellation, then look over to the Sagittarius constellation and see Saturn right above the eight stars of the “Teapot.”
Meanwhile, Mars is simmering down after an eventful summer — the red planet just made its closest approach to Earth since 2003, shortly after it reached opposition on July 27, the Inquisitr recently reported — and can be seen on September 1 just right next to the Capricornus constellation.
To catch the planets glowing in the sky this month, keep your eyes on the southern sky after sunset, starting at 8 p.m., advises Houston Jones.
Dust off those binoculars, and get set to explore the night sky this month https://t.co/T03jWfNnGU— National Geographic (@NatGeo) August 31, 2018
The great thing about stargazing this September is that the planets will be visible to the naked eye. However, you might still want to keep your binoculars close and even peer at the September sky through a telescope to enjoy a more detailed view of the four planets.
Take A Look At Venus
Venus, in particular, has a few interesting things to show you in the upcoming weeks, as the planet will be going through a dramatic change of phase throughout the month.
“Through binoculars or a telescope, you’ll see Venus’s phase change dramatically during September — from nearly half-phase to a larger, thinner crescent,” reveals Houston Jones.
On the first night of the month, Venus can be seen in the low western sky in the company of Spica, the brightest star of the constellation Virgo.
Catch The Zodiacal Lights
Also known as “false dawn,” the zodiacal lights make a dazzling appearance starting on September 5 and will light up the sky before true dawn begins, notes EarthSky.
Watch for zodiacal light or false dawn https://t.co/yXKgby4Zpz— EarthSky (@earthskyscience) August 29, 2018
The zodiacal light, an eerie light extending up from the horizon before true dawn begins. Southern Hemisphere? Look after sunset!
Photo: Lubomir Lenko, Brehov, Slovakia pic.twitter.com/JO6UuMGqFI
“This ethereal light is caused by sunlight reflecting off countless dust particles scattered between the planets along the plane of the solar system,” explains National Geographic.
These uncanny lights will be visible to stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere right before sunrise, glowing in the east. Meanwhile, observers in the Southern Hemisphere will be treated to a “false dusk” — virtually the same mysterious phenomenon, this time shining in the west a little after sunset.
Spot The Milky Way
The main celestial show of the month is a stunning performance by the Milky Way.
Houston Jones invites sky watchers to “set your sights beyond the solar system and take a late summertime road-trip along the Milky Way,” using the summer constellations as a guide.
In order to take in the spectacular view of the Milky Way seen as a cloud-like stretch of stars in the southern sky, try to locate the “Teapot” first. Also trailing through the sinuous twirls of our galaxy are the constellations Aquilla, Lyra, Cygnus, and Cassiopeia.
In the video below, Houston Jones explains how you can use the five summer constellations to trace the Milky Way in the night sky.
Don’t Miss The Autumnal Equinox
This year, the autumn equinox falls on September 22 and occurs at precisely 9:54 p.m. ET. The moment officially marks the start of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of spring in the Southern Hemisphere.
Just like the vernal (or spring) equinox, this astronomical event signifies the particular day of the year when the sun crosses the celestial equator, equally dividing the day and the night — evenly split to have the same length.
“Fall and spring equinoxes are also the only days when the sun rises due east and sets due west,” notes National Geographic.