Sky-watching in September starts off with ghostly cosmic glows and stunning close encounters between bright planets and stars.
Zodiacal Lights. Starting on Tuesday, Sept.3, with a near moonless sky in the pre-dawn hours, the next two weeks mark the best chance for Northern Hemisphere observers to catch the elusive glow of the zodiacal lights.
Far from city lights in the dark countryside, look for a pyramid-shaped glow — fainter than the Milky Way — rising above the eastern horizon before sunrise.
This ethereal light is caused by sunlight reflecting off countless dust particles scattered along the plane of the solar system, between the planets.
Pegasus Rising. With dark, late night skies on Wednesday, Sept.4, look towards the low northeast sky for the giant constellation Pegasus — the flying horse.
The winged steed is the seventh largest constellation in the entire sky and is easy to track down thanks to four brilliant stars marking out a giant square.
A large piece of celestial real estate, this ‘Great Square of Pegasus’ is large enough to contain more than 30 full Moons side by side. Though each corner star is only moderately bright, they’re relatively easy to locate because there are no stars in this area of the sky that are as luminous.
Venus and Spica. Right after sunset on Thursday, Sept.5, and the next day, Venus will park itself just above Spica — the brightest star of the constellation Virgo. The pair will be less than 2 degrees apart — about the width of your thumb at arm’s length. While both objects are considered bright, it will be a challenge to observe this conjunction since they will be setting very soon after the sun in the southwestern horizon.
Use binoculars to help pick out 163-million-kilometer distant Venus and the much fainter Spica, which sits 263 light-years from Earth.
Don’t forget to also check out the ringed-planet Saturn that shines less than 15 degrees to the upper left of the Venus-Spica pair.
Mars Buzzes Beehive. On Sunday, Sept.8, and again Monday, early bird sky-watchers can catch the planet Mars glide past the Beehive star cluster. Look about halfway up the pre-dawn, eastern sky for the red planet shining amongst the Beehive, a collection of 1,000 young stars located in the constellation Cancer some 5,000 light-years from Earth. Binoculars and small telescopes will really showcase this open star cluster along with the distinct orange-hue of Mars.
Moon and Venus. As dusk begins to fade later on Sunday, Sept.8, look for a beautiful pairing of a razor-thin crescent moon joining the goddess of love. For North American observers the pair will be only about 1 degree apart, equal to the width of your index finger at arm’s length.