September 2017's Celestial Events: Planets Align, Zodiacal Lights, and More

Fagjun | Published 2017-09-05 01:41

No celestial event this year may be able to beat last month's total eclipse, but that doesn't mean that there are no more wonders to be seen in the sky.


September also has some remarkable sky events worth lugging your telescope out to a nice stargazing spot. The moon will be real flirty with a few planets, and the planets themselves are going to position themselves in a few interesting alignments. We're also set to get the best look at Neptune for the this entire year.



September 5: Neptune at Opposition


An image of Neptune by NASA



Neptune will soon be sitting opposite the sun in the Earth's sky. The farthest planet from the sun will be about 4.3 billion kilometers away from Earth for the next few weeks, which means that the light bouncing off Neptune will be taking just four hours to reach Earth.


However, this doesn't mean that Neptune will be easily visible. Even at Neptune's brightest, you'll still need a telescope or mounted binoculars to be able to see the planet. If you want to be able to see Neptune, search for a blue-gray dot in the constellation Aquarius.



September 6: Full Corn Moon


What is a corn moon?



You know the song “Colors of the Wind” from Disney's Pocahontas? It mentions something about a “blue corn moon”. Have you ever wondered what in the world a “corn moon” was? Turns out, it's called a corn moon because it appears right around the traditional Native American time for harvesting corn. It's not the most exciting of celestial events, but it's certainly rooted in history and culture.


The full corn moon will be showing up right on the heels of Neptune, and will be sharing the sky with the planet. The further south you are, the better your position is for viewing the moon.



September 10: Regulus and Mercury


Regulus is the bright star at the bottom right corner of the constellation Leo. [Image by Larry Landolfi via Getty Images]



The star Regulus and the planet Mercury will be sharing a spot in the early morning sky. If you're angling to see the celestial pair on September 10, scan the skies to the east about 45 minutes before the sun rises wherever you may be.



September 16: Mars and Mercury


An image of Mercury by NASA



The morning of September 16 will see Mars and Mercury will appear quite close together in Earth's sky. The distance between the two planets will be less than half the width of the full moon. Of course, Mars and Mercury aren't really this close together. In actuality, Mars is about 88.5 million kilometers away from Earth, and Mercury is a little over 77 million kilometers away. However, they'll be aligned in such a way that both planets will be visible in a small swath of sky on the morning of September 16. Both will appear as orange-ish stars, hanging close to each other in the sky.



September 18: Zodiacal Lights


Zodiacal lights [Image by the European Southern Observatory]



If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, you're in for a treat. The zodiacal lights are some of the more remarkable celestial events of the month. Zodiacal lights are faint, ethereal lights that appear along the ecliptic or zodiac, hence the name. The ecliptic or zodiac is the plane of the solar system. When dust particles in the zodiac scatter sunlight, it results in the zodiacal lights.


If you find yourself in the countryside on September 18, away from city lights, you have a better chance of seeing the zodiacal lights. Just look for a triangular glow fainter than the Milky Way in the eastern horizon.



September 22: September Equinox


Sattelite image of the September equinox [Image by NASA]



At 20:02 UTC on September 22, the sun will shine directly on the equator. This also signals the first day of autumn for the Northern Hemisphere, and spring for the Southern Hemisphere. During the equinox, the day and night will be almost equally as long as each other in all parts of the world.



Other September Celestial Events


What else is up with the sky?



The moon is a frisky little thing this month, appearing in the sky with four other celestial bodies throughout September. On the 12th, the waning gibbous moon will make an appearance with Aldebaran, a bright orange star that makes the eye of the constellation Taurus. The moon, this time a thin crescent will appear above Venus on the 17th. If you're quick, you'll also be able to see Jupiter appear on the 22nd with the waxing crescent moon. Lastly, Saturn will appear in the sky as a yellow dot quite farther away from the quarter moon than the other planets, but it should still be simple to spot.


Of course, the moon isn't the only star of this month's sky show. Venus, known for appearing as a bright spot in the sky, will also appear with the star Regulus on September 20.


These are the celestial events of September 2017. May you have clear skies and a clean telescope lens!


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