Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy and eclipses.
The Night Sky This Week: September 7-13, 2020
This week brings some delicious celestial sights for stargazers, astronomers and astrophotographers.
First comes the Moon’s journey through Taurus and its various stargazing jewels before Venus visits one of the closest clusters of stars to Earth.
Meanwhile, we get to grips with the constellation of Perseus and, if you have a small telescope, this is the best week of the year to try for a glimpse of the planet Neptune between the bright sights of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.
Thursday, September 10, 2020: A Half-Moon, Aldebaran and the Pleiades
In the early hours of September 10 it will be possible to see a 50%-lit Last Quarter Moon form a triangle with two of the most famous sights of the winter night sky. As viewed after midnight on Thursday morning as they rise in the east, the Moon will lie to the north of red supergiant star Aldebaran, the “eye of the bull” in the constellation of Taurus.
Above will be the Pleiades (also known as the “Seven Sisters”), surely the most entrancing open cluster of stars we can see in the night sky.
Friday, September 11, 2020: Neptune at opposition
The “blue planet” and eighth planet from the Sun comes into opposition today, which means Earth is between it and the Sun. It’s consequently as big and as bright as its gets all year, and it’s visible all night long.
However, Neptune will still be an 8th-magnitude object, so too faint to see with the naked-eye. You can try to glimpse it with binoculars, but you’re really going to need a telescope to detect its blue-ness.
Sunday, September 13, 2020: Venus, a crescent Moon and the ‘Beehive Cluster’
Get up an hour or so before sunrise and you’ll see a beautiful tableau rising in the eastern sky today. The most obvious object will be a 20%-lit crescent Moon, with the bright star Pollux in Gemini shining above it.
Below will be the unmistakable sight of bright planet Venus. Just next to it will be M44, the “Beehive Cluster” or “Praesepe,” an open cluster of stars about 520 light-years distant. It’s one of the nearest open clusters to us and looks stunning in binoculars.
Note: be back at the same time, same place on Monday, September 14 to see a bright Venus, a 13%-illuminated Moon and the Beehive Cluster (M44) form a tight triangle—arguably the more beautiful sight!
Constellation of the week: Perseus
Supposed to resemble a Greek slayer of monsters, I’ve always struggled to think of the stars of Perseus as anything more than an upside-down V-shape with one curved side of bright stars . However, it’s definitely a paradise for anyone with any pair of binoculars.
Found in the northeastern sky after dark this month below the “W” shape of the constellation of Cassiopeia, Perseus has many jewels within and around it that are perfect for both binoculars and telescopes.
The most arresting sight is the famous “double cluster” of stars called NGC 869 and NGC 884.
Situated between Ruchbah in Cassiopeia and Mirfak in Perseus, NGC 869 and NGC 884 look great in the same field of view in binoculars, and awesome in a small telescope.
Note: Star charts here are for 40º North latitudes. If you need exact information for where you are please consult an online planetarium like The Sky Live.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.