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Touring the Skies By: Jim Bonser (

September 6, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Saturn leaves the evening skies this month as it makes its way behind the Sun to become a morning object next December. Watching Saturn this year has been great and I hope you have been able to get out and see it through a telescope. If not, it is not too late, but it will be a bit more challenging as the month goes on. Saturn sets about 10 PM on September 1 which sounds late, but remember the Sun sets just a little before 8 o’clock so by the time the skies darken, Saturn has gotten into the thick turbulent air near the horizon and the views are mediocre at best. There will be a little drama this month though as evening by evening we watch Saturn close in on bright Venus. Venus kind of hangs out just a little above the horizon all month. Each night Saturn will move a little closer to the Horizon and Venus will move a little more to the south. Venus will be directly below Saturn on the 16th, separated by about 3 degrees and 52 minutes. Two days later on the 18th, Venus will be south of Saturn but the two will be separated by 3 degrees and 30 minutes of arc. This all happens shortly after sunset while the skies are still fairly bright, but if the air remains clear it should be fun to watch them do their ‘dance’. Try to get out around 8 o’clock; much later and they will have set and any earlier the skies will be too bright. A beautifully slender crescent Moon joins the fun on September 8th when it flirts with Venus and then the next night it glides to the left of Saturn. Have those cameras at the ready! Jupiter stays below the horizon this month until 2 AM on the first of the month and about 12:25 AM on the 30th so if you want to see Jupiter among the bright stars of Gemini you will have to stay up quite late, I’m afraid. For those few of you who like to do astronomy just before sunrise, Mars wil be having a close encounter with the Beehive Cluster in Cancer this month. It will pass the southern edge of the cluster on September 8th and will be a very good target for photographers that morning and for a couple days before and after if you can get out and have your equipment set up by about 4:30 AM or so, when Mars and the cluster are high enough to clear the bright glow of the area near the horizon. Sunday, September 22 at 3:44 in the afternoon, the Sun crosses the Celestial Equator, an event called the Fall or Autumn Equinox. On this day the Daylight and Nighttime hours are equal and the Sun rises and sets due East and West – tough times for commuters driving into the Sun on east-west streets! Two more things of note this month: Solar Maximum and Comet ISON. The Sun goes through cycles of lots of activity (sunspot maximum) and periods where the surface is fairly calm with little sunspot activity. These cycles typically last 11 years. According to predictions, we should be nearing the maximum for this cycle. At the times of the equinoxes, sunspot activity often translates into more active aurora (northern lights) displays. So, since we are at the Fall Equinox and near solar maximum, the chances of some nice Northern Lights displays are pretty good. I usually step out on my deck and take a quick look around before going to bed if it is clear. Occasionally I am rewarded with some bright displays which means: quick – grab the camera and the tripod and start snapping pictures! You can also check out and see if they are predicting any activity at our latitude of about 42 degrees N. Finally, Comet ISON is getting closer and the folks watching it are still predicting that it will be fairly bright. You will need a telescope to see it this month, but it might be possible to see it with binoculars if it brightens like the predictions say. Towards the end of the month, around the 27th, ISON will be very close to Mars. So if you are an early riser, be sure to grab your binoculars and scan the area around Mars in the constellation Cancer and see if you can spot the little fuzzball! If it brightens like they say, I will give more specific instructions about where Cancer is. In the meantime, check out or on the web and they will have finder charts to help you. Clear Skies!



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