Thursday, Sept. 9
Friday, Sept. 10
Saturday, Sept. 11
Sunday, Sept. 12
Monday, Sept. 13
Tuesday, Sept. 14
Wednesday, Sept. 15
Thursday, Sept. 16
Friday, Sept. 17
Saturday, Sept. 18
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you must have a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger and deeper Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use your charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the more detailed and descriptive Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is emerging from deep in the glow of sunrise and brightening rapidly. It should be clearly visible after about the 15th; look for it low due east about 45 to 30 minutes before your time of sunrise. Don't confuse Mercury with little Regulus twinkling above it!
Venus, though bright at magnitude –4.7, is quite low in the southwest during bright evening twilight. It sets before dark.
Mars, vastly dimmer at magnitude +1.5, is 6° to Venus's upper right all week. Use binoculars. Look too for Spica (magnitude +1.0) to the lower right of Mars, as shown at the top of this page. Good luck.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.9, in Pisces) is nearing its opposition on the night of the 20th. As twilight fades, Jupiter becomes visible low in the east. It's well up in the east-southeast by mid- to late evening — by far the brightest starlike point in the sky. It's highest in the south around 1 or 2 a.m. daylight saving time.
Jupiter is having an unusually close apparition; from now through mid-October it appears 49 arcseconds wide. In fact, at opposition on the night of September 20th Jupiter will be closer than at any other time from 1963 to 2022. However, that's only 1% or 2% closer than in any year when opposition occurs from mid-August through October, including last year and next.
Jupiter's Great Red Spot is near System II longitude 157°. Assuming it stays there, here's a list to print out of all the Great Red Spot's predicted transit times for the rest of this observing season.
Saturn is lost in the sunset.
Uranus (magnitude 5.7) is only about 1° from Jupiter this week. They're closest (0.8°) on the 17th and 18th, with Uranus passing north of Jupiter.
Neptune (magnitude 7.8, at the Aquarius-Capricornus border) is well placed during evening. See our finder charts for Uranus and Neptune online or in the September Sky & Telescope, page 56. Can you see any color in Uranus and/or Neptune?
Pluto (magnitude 14, in northwestern Sagittarius) is in the south-southwest after dusk, but with the moonlight this week, forget it.
P.S. regarding Pluto: We list its whereabouts because people want us to, not because "Sky & Telescope officially says Pluto is a planet!" as internet gossip would have it.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
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