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Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, September 2014

The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).

night sky watching
The night sky is more than just the moon and stars, if you know when and where to look.
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com

Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.

Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

Night Sky Photos:

Video Guides: 

Sky Events September 2014

Moon Phases

Tuesday, Sept. 2, 7:11 a.m. EDT

First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon rises around 2:30 p.m. and sets around 12:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.

Monday, Sept. 8, 9:38 p.m. EDT

Full Moon

The Full Moon of September is known as the Harvest Moon because it is the Full Moon closest to the autumn equinox on September 22; it is also sometimes known as the Full Corn Moon. It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.

Monday, Sept. 15, 10:05 p.m. EDT

Last Quarter Moon

The Last Quarter Moon rises around midnight and sets around 3 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.

Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2:14 a.m. EDT

New Moon

The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the East as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the West an evening or two after New Moon.

New Moon, September 2014
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2:14 a.m. EDT. The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun.
Credit: Starry Night software

Observing Highlights

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 10 p.m. EDT

Uranus and the Moon

The waning gibbous moon passes just north of Uranus in the constellation Pisces. The moon will occult Uranus as seen from eastern Canada, Greenland, and northern Siberia. Seen here from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Sunday, Sept. 14, after midnight

Aldebaran and the Moon

The waning last quarter moon will pass just north of the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus.

Sunday, Sept. 21, early evening

Mercury close to Spica

The planet Mercury will pass close to the bright star Spica in Virgo. This is a particularly good apparition of Mercury for observers in the Southern Hemisphere, less so for northerners.

Monday, Sept. 22, 10:29 p.m. EDT

Equinox

The sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward. Day and Night are of equal length. The sun rises due east and sets due west everywhere on Earth. This is the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox (Spring) in the Southern Hemisphere.

Equinox, September 2014
Monday, Sept. 22, 10:29 p.m. EDT. The sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward. Day and Night are of equal length.
Credit: Starry Night software

Saturday, Sept. 27, 9 p.m. EDT

Ceres and the Moon

The moon passes just south of the dwarf planet Ceres in the constellation Libra.

Sunday, Sept. 28, midnight EDT

Saturn and the Moon

The moon passes just north of the Saturn in the constellation Libra.

Sunday, Sept. 28, 11 a.m. EDT

Vesta and the Moon

The moon passes just south of the asteroid Vesta in the constellation Libra.

Monday, Sept. 29

Double shadow transit on Jupiter

The shadows of Europa and Callisto cross the face of Jupiter simultaneously, best seen from India and central Asia. Seen here from New Delhi.

Double Shadow Transit on Jupiter, September 2014
Monday, Sept. 29. The shadows of Europa and Callisto cross the face of Jupiter simultaneously, best seen from India and central Asia. Seen here from New Delhi.
Credit: Starry Night software

Planets

Mercury will be in its best evening apparition of 2014 for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. Northern observers will have more difficulty seeing it.

Venus is low in the eastern sky, rising just before the sun.

Mars is now fading rapidly in brightness as it moves towards the far side of the sun.

Jupiter is low in the morning sky in the constellation Cancer.

Jupiter, September 2014
Jupiter is low in the morning sky in the constellation Cancer.
Credit: Starry Night software

Saturn, in Libra, is low in the WSW evening twilight sky, setting in mid evening.

Uranus is rising in mid-evening in the constellation Pisces, heading towards opposition on October 7.

Neptune was in opposition on the August 29th in Aquarius, so is visible all night long.

Skywatching Terms

  • Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
  • Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
  • Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
  • Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
  • Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.

Night Sky Observing Tips

  • Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
  • Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
  • Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.

Further Reading

Moon Phases: How the lunar cycle works, from full moon to new moon. Also find out when is the next full moon.

Constellations: The history of the Zodiac constellations and their place in night sky observing.

Major Night Sky Events for 2013: A list of skywatching opportunities.

Lunar Eclipses: How they work, plus find out when’s the next lunar eclipse.

Solar Eclipses: How they work, the types, and when the next one occurs.

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