The Shallow Sky

Akkana Peck

Jupiter returns to our skies this month, rising around 10 p.m. at the beginning of the month, with Saturn less than an hour behind it. Even low in the sky, both planets are a joy to observe; Jupiter's moons, and the festoons in its bands, offer plenty of detail to telescopic observers, and Saturn's generous ring tilt this year means that the gaps in its rings should be especially easy. Binocular observers can try using a tripod mount in order to spot Jupiter's moons (all four Galileans should be visible).

Mars, faint and far away, is still visible shortly after sunset, low in the southwestern sky. It moves closer to Antares during the month, giving naked-eye observers an excellent opportunity to make their own decisions about whether the "Rival of Mars" is indeed a worthy rival. They will be closest, less than three degrees apart, on the 17th.

Uranus and Neptune are both high in the sky in Capricornus, and are excellent targets for binoculars or a small telescope. A larger telescope will show them as obvious blueish-green disks, and might perhaps show a hint of detail on Uranus if you're fortunate enough to get a night of really steady seeing.

Pluto is still visible, and should still be a target for determined amateurs. Use a good chart, like the RASC Observer's Handbook, and try following the planet over several successive days to watch its motion against the star background.

Meanwhile, Venus rules the morning sky, waxing from a slim crescent on September 1 to almost first quarter by month's end. If you're an early riser, watch it change early in the month - it's amazing how fast the phase of crescent Venus will change, and how much the size of the planet changes as it races away from us in its tighter orbit around the sun.

Akkana Peck; last updated: October 03, 2007 Prev Next