What to see in September’s night sky

Highlights: Venus, Mars and Saturn are in the evening sky and can be observed with a small telescope. Spot Mercury too before dawn in late September.

Welcome to Skymania’s guide to the night sky in September, 2016. You will find a map of the whole visible sky, which can be adjusted for any time and date, plus information on the position of the planets, phases of the Moon, and notable astronomical events to watch out for.

All-sky astronomical map

Here is a view of the night sky this month as you can see it from mid-northern latitudes such as London or New York in mid September, 2016, at 10pm (22h UT). The chart is interactive, so you can click on the settings, to the top left of the chart, to change date and time, or your latitude, to suit your own astronomical set-up.

The sky in September 2016

Summary: Giant planet Jupiter disappears from view this month while brilliant Venus stays low above the western horizon after sunset. Here are our tips on observing Venus. Mercury may be seen at the end of the month in the morning sky if you have a good horizon.

Mars and Saturn are still close together in the early evening sky, near the bright red star Antares, whose name actually means “rival of Mars”. From 2-21 September, both are in the “forgotten” zodiacal constellation of Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer.

The planets

mercurythmMercury reaches inferior conjunction (between us and the Sun) on 12 September, before reappearing in the morning sky towards the end of the month. Since the ecliptic (the path of the planets) is steeply inclined to the horizon at this time, late September is one of the more favourable opportunities to see the innermost planet if you have an unobstructed view to the east, with Mercury reaching its greatest elongation from the sun on the 28th. Look to the east an hour or so before sunrise to glimpse it shining at magnitude -0.4. Here’s more on how to observe Mercury.
venusthmVenus is also in the evening sky, shining at -3.9 but does not get very high above the western horizon from northern latitudes. Here are tips on how to observe Venus.
marsthmMars fades from magnitude from -0.3 to +0.1 during the month as it moves from Scorpius into Ophiuchus, the Zodiac’s unrecognised constellation, on 2 September, and then into Sagittarius on 21 September. The size of the disk is shrinking, making it difficult to see detail with a small telescope. Find out more about Mars here including maps to show its position in the sky.

jupiterthmJupiter is now too close to the Sun in the sky to observe, reaching superior conjunction on 26 September. Of course it is really far beyond the Sun on the far side of the Solar System.
saturnthmSaturn shines at around magnitude +0.5 in the early evening sky, not far from Mars and bright star Antares in Scorpius. The rings are very widely opened now and so may be well seen in a small telescope.
uranus_thmUranus is just visible to the unaided eye if you have an exceptionally clear, dark sky, but binoculars make it much easier to spot. You can find it in shining at magnitude 6.0 in the constellation of Pisces.
neptune_thmNeptune, the last of the eight worlds recognised as planets in our Solar System, is visible with binoculars or a small telescope as soon as it gets dark, in the constellation of Aquarius, shining at magnitude 7.6. You can find it less than 2° to the right of the naked-eye star λ (lambda) Aquarii as seen from the northern hemisphere. A telescope will show a tiny disk and give a hint of its bluish hue.

The Moon

The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! A penumbral eclipse of the Moon occurs on 16 September across much of the world other than the Americas. Read our guide to it here.

Phases of the Moon

PhaseNew Moon: Sep 1
First Quarter: Sep 9
Full Moon: Sep 16
Last Quarter: Sep 23
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon

moon_in_relief_thmHere’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Click here for pages of charts that will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!

Note: The sky will appear much the same from other cities at similar latitudes, such as New York, Paris and Berlin, at around 10pm local time. The sky appears the same at the start of the month an hour later and at the end of the month an hour earlier. We use Virtual Sky, a new, customizable, browser-based planetarium, courtesy of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Click on the date or location to the top left of the chart to view the sky at a different time or from another longitude and latitude. If you want to check out the sky as seen from the southern hemisphere, click here.

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