Night sky in September – southern hemisphere

Highlights: Bright planets Venus, Mars and Saturn in evening sky.

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 seen from mid-southern latitudes such as Sydney (-33° 52′) in mid September, 2016, at 10pm local time. 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.

What to see in the sky in September 2016

Summary: After their close conjunction in late August, giant planet Jupiter and brilliant Venus are moving apart again, and you can see how quickly this happens by watching from one night to the next. Mercury is still visible nearby in the early part of the month but then races back towards the Sun. Here are our tips on observing Venus.

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 shines brightly in the evening sky, soon after sunset, in the first days of the month before sinking rapidly towards the Sun. It reaches inferior conjunction (between us and the Sun) on 12 September, reappearing very low in the morning sky at the end of the month. Here’s more on how to observe Mercury.
venusthmVenus is also in the evening sky, shining at -3.9 and is moving away from Jupiter following the close conjunction in late August. 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 its greenish disk 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° away from the naked-eye star λ (lambda) Aquarii. 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. See it from southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand. 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 Perth or Wellington, at around 10pm local time. Imagine holding it over your head so that the centre of the chart is the zenith and the edge runs all the way around your horizon. 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 customizable, browser-based planetarium, courtesy of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Tip: The chart is interactive. Click on the date or location to the top left of the chart to view the sky at a different time or from another location. If you want to check out the sky as seen from the northern hemisphere, click here.

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