Looking southeast on September 4 at 5:45 a.m. for
Neptune and Uranus.
Looking southeast twenty-three hours after sunset
Save our starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor: Reduce nighttime glare.
Shield all your outside lights downward (or turn them off completely)
and enjoy the beautiful, starry night sky.
September night sky
September is the month where summer ends and fall begins in the
northern hemisphere. Today, Autumnal Equinox happens when the Sun
passes directly over the equator as it slides further south in the
sky each day. The long days of summer begin to give way to the long
nights of winter. This equinox occurs in modern times with the Sun
located in the constellation Virgo. Hence, September births are
associated with that zodiac sign.
On the day of the equinox, the length of daylight and night are
approximately the same, twelve hours each. It also means the sun
will be rising due east and setting due west. This year, the equinox
occurs at 3:52 a.m. MDT on September 23rd.
The Aurigid meteor shower normally receives little attention for
its lack of meteors. The meteors are called “Aurigids”
because they appear to fan out from the constellation of Auriga,
the Charioteer. Most years, only a scant few, if any at all, meteors
are produced by this shower; however, this year, you might want
to pay attention on the morning of September 1st.
Meteor showers occur whenever Earth passes into the dusty debris
left behind by a comet that passes through our neighborhood. The
debris left behind by Kiess, a comet last seen in 1911, is what
produces the Aurigids. Kiess is a very long period comet that takes
approximately twenty-five hundred years to orbit the Sun. Usually
the Earth misses one of the trails left behind during a rare pass
through the inner solar system; sometimes, we hit the edge of one
like we did in 1935, 1986, and 1994 when small, but surprising showers
In 2007, however, the Earth is expected to pass within thirty-nine-thousand
miles of the center of a dust trail, which astronomers Esko Lyytinen
of Finland and Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in California
believe will produce a rich shower of bright meteors.
Random shooting stars, or meteors, are visible any night of the
year. On average, five or six per hour are normal under dark skies.
During a respectable meteor shower, you can see upwards of one a
minute. But occasionally, the sky explodes in a rare meteor storm.
Storms are something to get excited about. During the short peak
of a good storm, you could see one thousand meteors per hour. These
rare outbursts usually last only for a short fifteen-minute show,
so you need to be lucky to see one.
So, what is the official forecast for the 2007 Aurigid Meteor
Shower? Jenniskens predicts at least four hundred meteors per hour,
possibly even exceeding one thousand per hour. The peak of the shower
is predicted to occur at 11:37 GMT (5:37 a.m. MDT). Unfortunately,
this comes during daylight for Europe and much of North America.
But the western United States and Canada, as well as much of Alaska
and Hawaii will still be in darkness and would be in an excellent
position to view it, even with the waxing gibbous Moon. Twilight
may hamper New Mexico viewers more than the Moon—sunrise on
the first is 6:40 a.m.
These meteors should produce bright streaks in the sky, as they
are predicted to be a bit larger than the usual sand-grain bits
of dust and hit the atmosphere at a blazing forty-one miles per
second. Many should appear as bright as the brighter stars. A scant
few may even outshine Jupiter and Venus. So, the Moon should not
hinder the display too much.
So, get up early on Saturday morning and hope for a great celestial
show before the Sun rises.
THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
• Mercury will be setting about thirty minutes after the Sun
in the west.
• Venus is now a morning object in the eastern sky. Look for
a conjunction with the Moon on the 9th about 6:00 a.m. If you look
closely, just below the Moon will be the star Regulus, with Saturn
just below it.
• Morning is the time to look for Mars, too. It will be in
the southeast about forty-five degrees above the horizon an hour
before sunrise. On the 4th, check out the Mars-Moon conjunction
just above Betelgeuse, the left (your left) shoulder of Orion. Rigel,
is the right-side foot of Orion. Castor and Pollux, the twins, are
even with Betelgeuse and to the south. Serius is the bright star
near the horizon below Orion.
• Jupiter is high in the south after sunset above Antares,
the heart of the Scorpion. The Moon joins the pair on the evening
of the 18th.
• Saturn is a morning planet, rising about forty-five minutes
before the Sun in the east.
• Feeling lucky? Get out your binoculars and look for Neptune
in the constellation Capricornus.
If you have a question or comment for Charlie,
you may email him at email@example.com.