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| Astronomy Essentials | Space on Sep 01, 2014

September 2014 guide to the five visible planets

Mars and Saturn appear at nightfall. From southerly latitudes, you can also view Mercury near the sunset horizon. The morning planets are Jupiter and Venus.

Moon with Jupiter in predawn and dawn sky September 19 Read more

Moon with Jupiter in predawn and dawn sky September 19 Read more

Moon again with Jupiter on the morning of September 20 Read more

Moon again with Jupiter on the morning of September 20 Read more

Mercury's evening apparition favors Southern hemisphere Read more

Mercury’s evening apparition favors Southern Hemisphere Read more

Mars and Saturn pop into view as soon as darkness falls in late August and throughout September 2014. Look for golden Saturn and ruddy Mars close together in the southwest sky, to the west of the bright ruddy star Antares. Both worlds will edge closer to Antares throughout the month, though Mars will be moving on the sky’s dome at a much faster pace. Mars will pass north of Antares on September 27. Meanwhile, slow-plodding Saturn won’t meet up with Antares until December 2015. Let the waxing crescent moon guide you to Saturn and Mars as darkness falls in early September, and then later in the month on September 27, September 28 and September 29.

Mercury, the innermost planet, transitioned into the evening sky on August 8, 2014, and will remain in the evening sky until mid-October 2014. However, this world doesn’t climb high enough from the glare of sunset to be easily visible at mid-northern and far-northern latitudes. On the other hand, residents in the Southern Hemisphere will see an exceedingly fine apparition of Mercury in the evening sky all this month. Mercury reaches its greatest evening elongation on September 21.

Click here for more detail about the evening planets.

Venus and Jupiter, the sky’s brightest and second-brightest planets, respectively, presented the closest planet-planet conjunction of the year in the August morning sky. Since then, Venus has sunk downward toward the rising sun, while Jupiter has climbed upward away from the sunrise glare. In early September, Jupiter rises some 2.5 hours before the sun, while Venus rises about one hour before. By the month’s end, Jupiter comes up about 4.5 hours before sunrise whereas Venus comes up about one-half hour before. Venus will transition to the evening sky in October 2014. The waning crescent moon joins up with Jupiter on September 19 and September 20.

Click here for more detail about the morning planets.

Special sky events coming up in September 2014:

Moon with Jupiter in predawn and dawn sky on September 19

Moon again with Jupiter on morning of September 20

Mercury’s evening apparition favors Southern Hemisphere

Sun at zenith over Earth’s equator on September equinox

Moon near Saturn and approaching Mars on September 27

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Evening planets in September 2014

Mars visible from dusk until mid-evening.

Saturn from evening dusk until mid-evening.

Mercury at dusk/nightfall all month (at southerly latitudes).

Morning planets in September 2014

Venus before sunrise throughout September.

Jupiter in predawn/dawn sky all month

What do we mean by visible planet?

Mars and Saturn race toward star Antares in September 2014 Read more

Mars and Saturn race toward star Antares in September 2014 Read more

Mars visible from evening dusk until mid-evening. Although the red planet Mars is getting dimmer as it lags behind us in its larger and slower orbit, Mars nonethess remains respectably bright throughout September 2014. This ruddy world still outshines Antares, the constellation Scorpius’ brightest star. Mars will pass to the north of Scorpius on September 27.

Mars recently passed to the south of Saturn in late August. In the great race of the planets, Mars will leave Saturn in the dust as the red planet travels onward toward Antares, the famous red supergiant star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Saturn, on the other hand, won’t meet up with Antares until December 2015.

Let the waxing crescent moon guide you to Mars and Saturn in late August and early September, and then again on September 27, September 28 and September 29.

At mid-northern latitudes, Mars sets about 3 hours after the sun all month long.

Saturn via ESO/U. of Oxford/L. N. Fletcher/T. Barry

Thermal infrared images of Saturn from the VISIR instrument on ESO’s VLT (center and right) and an amateur visible-light image (left) from Trevor Barry (Broken Hill, Australia). Obtained on January, 2011. Via ESO/U. of Oxford/L. N. Fletcher/T. Barry

Planet Saturn at the April 28, 2013 opposition (day Earth went between sun and Saturn) from EarthSky Facebook friend D.R. Keck Photography.

Planet Saturn at its April 28, 2013 opposition (day Earth went between sun and Saturn in 2013) from EarthSky Facebook friend D.R. Keck Photography.

Saturn as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in early February 2014.  Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004.  Many awesome images!

Saturn as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in early February 2014. Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004. Many awesome images!

Saturn from evening dusk until mid-evening. This month, as seen from northerly latitudes, the ringed planet Saturn is found in the southwest at nightfall and early evening. This golden-colored world shines in front of the constellation Libra the Scales. Mars moved past Saturn in late August 2014, but the two worlds will stay relatively close to each other in early September.

Let the moon guide you to Mars and Saturn in late August and early September. Toward the end of the month, you can once again use the moon to locate these evening planets on September 27, September 28 and September 29.

Binoculars won’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, but a small telescope will. This month might be your final opportunity to view Saturn in evening sky, because Saturn will sit closer to the glare of sunset in October 2014. Saturn is highest for the night at nightfall and probably still a decent telescopic object at early evening. Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 22o from edge-on in September 2014, showing us their north face. Several years from now, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May 2032.

At mid-northern latitudes, Saturn sets about 3 hours after sunset in early September, and about 2 hours after sundown by the month’s end.

Mercury and moon, by GregDiesel Landscape Photography

Mercury and moon on February 27, 2014, by GregDiesel Landscape Photography. Greg managed to catch Mercury just at the beginning of its long March 2014 apparition in the predawn sky.

Mercury at dusk/nightfall, all month (at southerly latitudes). For the Southern Hemisphere, the evening apparition of Mercury starting in late August 2014 and continuing all the way until early October 2015 will be the best showing of Mercury in the evening sky for this year. Unfortunately for northerly latitudes, Mercury will be buried too deeply in the glare of evening twulight to be visible. Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, reaches its greatest eastern (evening) elongation from the setting sun on September 21.

Northerly latitudes … tough luck on this one!

Venus before sunrise throughout September. Venus beams in the eastern dawn sky throughout September 2014, though it quickly sinks into the glare of sunrise throughout the month. At mid-northern latitudes, the morning “star” rises somewhat more than one hour before the sun at the beginning of the month, but only about one-half hour before sunup by the month’s end. Venus will be very tough to see by late September, and will transition to the evening sky in October 2014.

It may be difficult to see the planet Venus in the harsh glow of dawn on Saturday, September 20.

It may be difficult to see the planet Venus in the harsh glow of dawn on Saturday, September 20.

You need a telescope to observe the phases of Venus. Whenever you see Venus in the morning sky, it is always moving away from Earth and its phase is continually waxing (getting broader). The phase of Venus will be hard to discern now, though, through a small telescope, because this world appears nearly full to us. This month, Venus’ disk starts out about 97% illuminated and ends the month over 99% illuminated. Believe it or not, Venus shines at or near its brightest in the morning (or evening) sky when its disk is about one-quarter lit up in sunshine. That’s because, at such times, the disk of Venus is always larger in our sky than when the planet appears full. Venus’ illuminated portion last covered the greatest square area of our sky on February 15, when its disk was 26% illuminated.

Nonetheless, Venus is always bright. It will remain the brightest starlike object in the morning sky until it fades into the sunrise in late September or early October 2014.

Jupiter in predawn/dawn sky all month Jupiter had a wonderful conjunction with Venus – the year’s closest of any two planets – on the morning of August 18. But Jupiter now shines well above Jupiter at dawn. In fact, Jupiter lords over the morning sky right now, rising well before dawn all through September. Look for the moon near Jupiter for several days, centered on September 20.

Look for the waning crescent moon near Jupiter for several days, centered on September 21. Read more

Look for the waning crescent moon near Jupiter for several days, centered on September 21. Read more

What do we mean by visible planet? By visible planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They tend to be bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.

Bottom line: The evening planets, Mars and Saturn, come out first thing at nightfall. From southerly latitudes, you can also view Mercury near the horizon at dusk/nightfall. The morning planets are Jupiter and Venus.

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Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014.  Jupiter was close to the twilight then.  In early July, Jupiter will be even closer to the twilight, about to disappear in the sun's glare.

Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014. Jupiter was close to the twilight then. Jupiter disappeared into the sunset glare around mid-July 2014.

Jupiter and its four major moons as seen through a 10

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter and one of its moons, Io, on February 28, 2014 via Earthsky Facebook friend Derek Brookes.  Thank you, Derek!

Jupiter and one of its moons, Io, on February 28, 2014 via Earthsky Facebook friend Derek Brookes. Thank you, Derek!

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights on December 29, 2013, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France.

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights on December 29, 2013, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France. Visit his page on Facebook.

Jupiter and its four major moons as seen through a 10

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Skywatcher, moon, planet (looks like Venus) from Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, moon, planet (looks like Venus) from Predrag Agatonovic.

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

On the moonless evening of December 3, 2013, Chris Georgia took this gorgeous photo of the constellation Orion (above his head and left of the light pole), the planet Jupiter (brightest star-like object at left), and the Gemini stars to upper left of Jupiter: Castor (at top) and Pollux (at bottom). Thank you so much, Chris! View larger

On the moonless evening of December 3, 2013, Chris Georgia took this gorgeous photo of the constellation Orion (above his head and left of the light pole), the planet Jupiter (brightest star-like object at left), and the Gemini stars to upper left of Jupiter: Castor (at top) and Pollux (at bottom). Thank you so much, Chris! View larger

These are called star trails. It’s a long-exposure photo, which shows you how Earth is turning under the stars. The brightest object here is Jupiter, which is the second-brightest planet, after Venus. This awesome photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Mohamed Laaifat in Normandy, France. Thank you, Mohamed.

View larger. | Venus shining above the rock of Asseu, Gulf of Riva Trigoso, Sestri Levante, Ligurian Sea, Genoa, Italy, November 29, 2013, via Maranatha.it Photography.

View larger. | Venus shining above the rock of Asseu, Gulf of Riva Trigoso, Sestri Levante, Ligurian Sea, Genoa, Italy, November 29, 2013, via Maranatha.it Photography.

View larger. | Mars and moon as seen from Hong Kong on October 2, 2013 via EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin.  Thank you, Matthew!  Mars is getting easier to see, but it's still pretty close to the sunrise, and it's relatively faint in contrast to how bright it will become in 2014.

View larger. | Mars and moon as seen from Hong Kong on October 2, 2013 via EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin. Thank you, Matthew!

View larger. |  EarthSky Facebook friend Peter Wong in Adelaide, Australia captured this image of planets and the star Spica in the west after sunset on September 26, 2013.  As seen from the Southern Hemisphere - where it's spring now - the planets are straight up above the sunset.  Thank you, Peter!

View larger. | EarthSky Facebook friend Peter Wong in Adelaide, Australia captured this image of planets and the star Spica in the west after sunset on September 26, 2013. Thank you, Peter!

View larger. | Moon and Venus on September 7, as captured by EarthSky Facebook friend Ken Christison in North Carolina.  Thank you, Ken!  On Sunday evening - September 8 - the moon will appear much closer to Venus.  The Americas, in particular, will get a dramatically close view of the pair.

View larger. | Here are the moon and Venus on September 7, 2013 as captured by EarthSky Facebook friend Ken Christison in North Carolina. Thank you, Ken!

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong earlier today - June 1, 2013 - by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin.  Awesome shot, Matthew!

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong earlier today – June 1, 2013 – by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin. Awesome shot, Matthew!

View larger.  |  From left to right, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury as seen last night, May 24.  EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh captured this photo in Clarksville, Indiana.

View larger. | From left to right, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury as seen May 24, 2013. EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh captured this photo in Clarksville, Indiana.

View larger. | The two brightest objects in this photo - and in your evening sky on May 12, 2013 - appeared to be the waxing crescent moon and Jupiter.   In reality, an even brighter planet - Venus - was also up, but buried in bright twilight.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Daniel McVey.

View larger. | The two brightest objects in this photo – and in your evening sky on May 12, 2013 – appeared to be the waxing crescent moon and Jupiter. In reality, an even brighter planet – Venus – was also up, but buried in bright twilight. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Daniel McVey.

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