Heads UP! for early September 2014

This month, for those going back to school, you might say the brighter planets are working in the margins of our paper, except for Jupiter, which gets higher in the eastern sky each morning, making it easy to see as late as 45 minutes before sunrise each clear morning. This makes Jupiter available for pointing out to fellow commuters on the way to work. If you’re up early with your telescope, a few minutes spent observing Jupiter, its dancing moons and neat cloud belts will brighten your day.

As for the other bright planets, Venus will be continue to be brilliant, but low in the east as sunrise moves rapidly earlier as we approach the equinox.

You should also go out in the evening and look low in the southwest, to the left of where the sun just set. Mars and Saturn will make lovely changing patterns, along with the bright star Antares. Mercury, near Spica, will be hard to see, even as it gets further from the sun through the 21st.

When Mars moves near Antares in the sky early in September, does Antares live up to its name ‘rival of Mars’? Does one look brighter than the other? Officially, they are about the same magnitude this month. Mars looks very tiny, even in a telescope, appearing only twice as wide as Uranus, so details are hard to see even in a telescope.

Saturn will be sliding into the twilight, but its rings continue to reward persistent followers. Saturn will have an additional neighbor in early September, a +7.8 magnitude star looking like an additional moon. One of Saturn’s moons, Rhea (perhaps out of jealousy?), will block out the 7th magnitude star on the evening of the 12th, as seen from parts of the northeast US and eastern Canada. At the time of the occultation, about 8:38pm ET, the Sun will be about 14 degrees below the horizon and Saturn will be only 11 degrees above the southwestern horizon at that time. Rhea will be hard to find in a telescope at magnitude +10, so train your optics on the 7th magnitude star, east of Saturn, since it will be noticeably brighter than Saturn’s moons. It would be rewarding to see the star appear to dim if Rhea passes in front of it for your location.

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