Manitoba Skies – September 2020
September is traditionally a great month for stargazing. Still not too cold, and yet cold enough that any summer insects that are still around aren’t a nuisance. We can still see the summer Milky Way, this year September’s skies also offer great views of the best and brightest planets of our solar system.
Mercury is not easily visible this month, even though it is at one of its periodic “elongations” where it is not too close to the Sun. The angle of the horizon and the solar system’s plane conspire to keep Mercury too low to eb easily spotted. (Wait until later this fall for this one.
Venus rises about 3 am in the east-northeast, and is well above the horizon in the east at dawn.
Mars is rising in the east about 9 pm, growing in brightness as it comes closer to Earth. Mars reaches its closest point to earth on this orbital cycle early next month, so you can watch it grow in brightness throughout September.
Jupiter is low in the south at sunset, and moves into the southeastern sky over the course of the evening. It stays fairly low in the sky, so if you have trees of buildings to your south you may need to find a clearer observing site. Binoculars will reveal up to four tiny stars lined up on either side of the planet – the largest of Jupiter’s moons. A small telescope is needed to see the cloud bands and other details. Jupiter sets about 1 am.
Saturn is just a bit to Jupiter’s left, and follows it across the sky. The famous rings of Saturn are only visible in a telescope. It sets shortly after Jupiter does.
Uranus and Neptune don’t usually rate on this list because they aren’t visible to the unaided eye. (Technaically, Uranus is just visible to the unaided eye from a dark, moonless sky, if you know exactly where to look.) However, this month both are well-placed and can be tracked down with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. Visit Sky & Telescope magazine for finder charts and tips on how to track down the two farthest planets.
If an entry has a box at the end, click on it to see a star map showing the scene! All star maps are created using Stellarium, the free astronomy software.
2 Sep 2020 (all night): Full Moon.
5 Sep 2020 (all night): The nearly-full moon is very close to Mars in the sky. From equatorial regions, the moon will actually cover up (or occult) Mars, but we don’t see that from Manitoba.
11 Sep 2020 (all night): Neptune, the farthest planet from the Sun, is at opposition. This means it is opposite the Sun in our sky, rising as the sun sets, and staying above the horizon all night.
21 Sep 2020 (early evening): The crescent Moon is very close to the star Beta Scorpii (“SKOR-pee-eye”), the star that marks the stinger in the constellation in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. About 8:30 pm CDT the moon will cover the star in an event called a lunar occultation. This event may be visible in binoculars, but it occurs quite low in the sky for observers in Manitoba, and so a telescope would be a better choice if you have one.
22 Sep 2020: The autumnal equinox occurs at 8:31 am CDT, ushering in the beginning of autumn in the astronomical sense. (The weather doesn’t seem to pay attention to equinox dates, and starts fall whenever it feels like it.)
26 Sep 2020 (evening): International Observe the Moon night. Observers around the globe will be providing live views (mostly online) so people can observe our planet’s natural satellite up close.
The StarLink satellite swarms have been visible over Manitoba lately. These trains of satellites appear as moving “stars” one after the other, following the same path across the sky. To find out when they’ll be visible, consult Heavens-above.com and set it for your location. Or, you can just go outside in the evening and you’ll probably see some.
To see when the International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba, click here. You can find times for other locations across Manitoba and throughout the world, as well as times for other orbiting objects, by visiting Heavens-above.com and entering your location here.