The tiny planet, Mercury, has been known since antiquity, but has eluded some very eminent astronomers: Copernicus never saw it. However, this September you have a very good chance of spotting it if you get up before sunrise.
It’ll be easiest on the 22nd if the eastern sky is clear, but it will be possible to see it for a few days either side of this. Use the chart below to locate it. Venus will be blazingly obvious, and if you can see the star Regulus, you should be able to make out Mercury, which is much brighter than the star (but against a brighter star background).
To make it easier to see, you could use binoculars, but to avoid damaging your eyes, don’t keep looking for it after the beginning of sunrise at approximately 6:50am on the 22nd September.
The planets are the main showpieces of the sky this month. If you have a telescope, try looking at Venus through it; you’ll see that it’s actually like a crescent Moon.
If early rising is not your cup of tea, the bright gas-giant Jupiter rises just before 9pm. Give it time to clear any horizon murk, then take a look at it through binoculars and you should be able to spot some of the moons that Galileo discovered at the beginning of the 17th Century. They’ll be even easier to see through a telescope, which should also reveal dark belts on the planet and, if you’re lucky, the Great Red Spot, which is a storm that has been raging for at least 300 years!
The other gas-giant planet is the beautiful ringed Saturn. You’ll find it in the southern sky and around 10pm it will be about a hand-span above the horizon. You’ll need a telescope that magnifies at least 35x to see its rings, but it’s worth persevering; this is definitely one of astronomy’s “WOW!” experiences.
Back to binoculars for another “WOW!”. If you have a reasonably clear south-western horizon, scan around the Milky Way. The bit of it near the horizon is the direction of the centre of our galaxy, where the stars are packed most densely, sometimes appearing like a cloud on the horizon. In binoculars, you can see thousands of stars in a single field of view.
Our dark skies make these, and other, beautiful night time phenomena easier to see. One of the things that can spoil our view of the sky during the darker months is poorly implemented outdoor lighting. You can use our handy flowchart to assess your outdoor lights.
If you decide you need to change them for dark-sky compliant fittings, we may be able to help. Get in touch with our Dark Skies Advisor, Steve Tonkin at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Find out more about Dark Night Skies on Cranborne Chase National Landscape.