The night sky in September

A look at what one might expect in the skies at night

The red star meets the red planet and the Zodiacal Light points towards Jupiter this month.

As Mars moves toward its encounter with comet “Siding Spring” next month, the red planet passes several bright stars.

After sunset in the southwest sky on Sept. 12 at around 8:45 p.m. looking west towards Metchosin, you will see Mars halfway between Saturn and Antares, compare the red hues of Mars and Antares with your own eyes.

By Sept. 27, if you look west of Port Angeles towards  the Pacific Ocean, the two appear about three degrees apart, low in the southwest sky after sunset.

Like last month, the moon skips through the sky, appearing to the lower right of Saturn on Sept. 27, between Mars and Saturn on Sept. 28, and above Mars on Sept. 29, forming a straight line with Antares.

Meanwhile, in the morning sky, looking east toward Mount Baker, Jupiter rises higher. Use the moon to find it on the morning of Sept. 20.

You can also use Jupiter to look for a huge pyramid of light appearing one to two hours before sunrise.

The pyramid, called the Zodiacal Light, is sometimes confused with the Milky Way and sometimes called the false dawn.

It can even look like faint city lights if you are driving east before sunrise.

The Zodiacal Light is best seen from mid-September to early October.

It’s the reflection of sunlight off cosmic dust particles, the debris from comet and asteroid collisions in our solar system.

Some of these dust particles enter Earth’s atmosphere as sporadic or random meteors. But most of the dust particles producing the Zodiacal Light settle into a lens- or pancake-shaped, tapering, cone of light fattest near the sun and extending all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit.

Most of the material is located near the plane of the solar system, the ecliptic: the flat disk where the planets orbit.

The Zodiacal Light is seen along the narrow pathway of this flat plane. When you look at the eastern horizon before dawn in autumn, the ecliptic is nearly vertical in the sky.

This summary is from What’s Up In September 2014 by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.

For more information on each event, go to cattlepointstarpark.org.

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