Friday, September 20
Saturday, September 21
Sunday, September 22
Monday, September 23
Tuesday, September 24
Wednesday, September 25
Thursday, September 26
Friday, September 27
Saturday, September 28
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.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. 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 guide to 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'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable 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 (magnitude –0.1) is deep in the glow of sunset. Twenty minutes after sunset, use binoculars to look for it about 22° lower right of Venus. Don't confuse it with fainter, twinklier Spica near it. Mercury and Spica pass just 3/4° apart on Tuesday evening September 24th.
Venus and fainter Saturn (magnitudes –4.2 and +0.6, respectively) shine low in the west-southwest in evening twilight. Find Venus far lower left of Arcturus. Saturn moves increasingly far to Venus's right this week. They set just after dark.
Mars (magnitude 1.6, crossing from Cancer to Leo) rises around 3 a.m. and glows due east as dawn begins. Look for it far lower left of bright Jupiter. Below Mars is Regulus, similarly bright and moving closer to it daily. Compare their colors.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.1, in central Gemini) rises around midnight or 1 a.m. and blazes high in the east-southeast by dawn. Left of it are Castor and Pollux.
Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude 7.8, in Aquarius) are well up toward the southeast by 10 p.m. Finder charts for Uranus and Neptune.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — 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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