Above, an illustration from the planetarium show "Oasis in Space," now playing at the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium through October 30. Jupiter’s moon Europa is a promising destination because its surface is covered entirely in ice, which may conceal an ocean of liquid water.
“Oasis in Space” at Carr-Fles Planetarium; Five Planets and Harvest Moon in September Sky
BY JONATHAN TRUAX, ASTRONOMER, MUSKEGON COMMUNITY COLLEGE'S CARR-FLES PLANETARIUM
September is a great month for star gazing. Nights in September tend to be frequently clear, the stars of summer are still well placed for observing, and all five naked eye planets can be seen this month.
As September begins, sky watchers can locate the planets Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus in the evening sky right after sunset. Look low in the west southwest, near the horizon, starting about 30 minutes after sunset to locate brilliant Venus the brightest of the planets. Jupiter is seen as a very bright white colored “star” above or east of Venus. The waxing crescent moon is near Jupiter and Venus the nights of September 12 through 14.
The planet Saturn is visible higher and further to the east of Jupiter in the south southwest. Saturn appears as a fairly bright yellow “star” to the east of the red supergiant star Antares of Scorpius the Scorpion. The waxing moon is near Saturn the nights of September 16 through 17.
The red planet Mars shines brightly in the south southeast about an hour after sunset. This month the planet is dimmer than it was in August, but still brighter than most night time objects. The waxing gibbous moon is near Mars on the nights of September 18 through 20.
During early September, sky watchers can locate Mercury as a morning “star” in the east among the stars of Leo the Lion. Bright white Mercury will be the low close to the eastern horizon about 40 minutes before sunrise. A little higher and fainter is the bright star Regulus of Leo. The waning crescent moon is very close to this pair on the mornings of September 7 and 8.
The Full moon of September is the Harvest Moon, occurring on the night of September 24. The moon shines among the stars of Aquarius, just south of the “Great Square” of Pegasus.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Oasis in Space” through October 30 at 7:00 p.m. Take a startling and beautiful voyage through our universe, galaxy, and solar system in search of liquid water – a key ingredient for life here on Earth. The program will be followed by a brief tour of the current night sky, using the planetarium.
As darkness falls after sunset this month, high in the northwest, locate the “Big Dipper” formed by the stars of Ursa Major. Low in the western sky, sky watchers can find Arcturus of Bootes, the brightest star of summer. High overhead, locate three bright stars all blue or white in color, forming the “Summer Triangle.” The northeast corner star is Deneb, of Cygnus the Swan. The northwest corner star is Vega, of Lyra the Harp. Furthest south of the trio is Altair, of Aquila the Eagle. By dawn the “Summer Triangle” can be found low in the west. High in the northeast, the “W” shaped pattern of stars forming Cassiopeia is rising.
This month after sunset, the summer Milky Way stretches from low in the southwest, through the zenith, down to the northeast horizon. For the best views of the Milky Way, observe away from city lights and on the nights after September 4th, but before the 14th when the moon is not very bright in the evening sky.
As dawn twilight begins, look high overhead to locate the bright orange star Aldebaran of Taurus, one of the brightest stars of winter. The waning gibbous moon will be extremely close to this star the morning of September 29. Just west of overhead is the Pleiades star cluster. Orion the Hunter is high in the south at that time. Low in the southeast is Sirius, brightest star in the heavens, is rising.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Oasis in Space” Tuesdays and Thursdays, through October 30, at 7:00 p.m. Visit the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium website for upcoming events and call (231) 777-0289 for sky show information. Carr-Fles Planetarium is located on the Muskegon Community College campus in Room 135. Thanks to the generosity of the Reach for the Stars campaign donors, you can now experience Carr-Fles Planetarium with state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.