What’s Up: September 2017

It’s September and a wonderful time to enjoy the night sky. In northern latitudes, the length of night is generally outpacing the upcoming winter chill. Spring and Fall are great times to become reacquainted with the cosmos.

Here’s a brief run-down of what to expect in the September skies (note: this information is tailored to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere).

What’s that planet?:
If it’s in the evening, it’s most likely Jupiter. If it’s in the morning, you might be seeing Venus, Mercury or Mars.

This month, Jupiter is its bold, bright self, but it’s tracking fairly close to the Sun and setting in the southwest. You’ll see it shortly after sundown, earlier and earlier the further north you are. In October, Jupiter will be outside of our view until its return in November. On September 21 and 22, Jupiter will appear very near to a thin crescent Moon. Saturn is also up during September nights, though you’ll want to consult a star chart or skymap app to find it due to it being hard to distinguish from stars. Speaking of Saturn, September 15 marks the grand finale of the Cassini spacecraft. After 20 years of astonishing service, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere and end one of the most successful space missions imagined.

On September mornings, keep an eye out for Venus, Mars, and Mercury. Venus is hard to miss, it’s the brightest object in the sky following the Sun and Moon. Keep an eye to the east about two hours before sunrise (closer to sunrise the later we get into the month) for our bright sister planet.

If you’re fortunate enough to live on the mid-northern latitudes, you might get to witness a fantastic conjunction of Mercury and Mars. (If you’re as far north as Alaska, you’ll need a clear view of the horizon.) On September 16, Mercury and Mars appearing extremely close to each other in the morning sky. Use this website to get a custom report for your viewing location.

If you need help finding out when a planet rises and sets for your location, this website is fairly indispensable.

Happy viewing!

A Tale Of One Crater

Dickens Crater

(Dickens crater as imaged from the Messenger spacecraft / Image Source: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Charles Dickens was the acclaimed English novelist who brought the world such classics as ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Great Expectations’, and ‘David Copperfield’, among others (another is alluded to in the title of this post, but you knew that). Widely considered the greatest Victorian period author, he has been honored in many ways throughout the past century-and-a-half.

Dickens might have come to expect many of the honors he received, and those dedicated posthumously, but one that I don’t suspect he ever looked forward to was having a crater on the planet Mercury named after him. Nearly all Mercurian craters are named after artists; writers, painters, composers, etc. Naturally, Dickens wouldn’t be excluded.

The name of the 78km-diameter crater, Dickens, was approved by the International Astronomical Union in 1976, which appears to be the first year they began the unique naming program. (For your general interest, recent “inductees” are a couple of my favorite writers, Khalil Gibran and Rudyard Kipling; having their surnames assigned to craters in 2009 and 2010, respectively.)




For a full list of the currently-291 named Mercurian craters, check out this list.