RSS Feeds

Autumn brings long nights for skywatching

Tuesday - 9/6/2011, 6:03pm  ET

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its front hazard-avoidance camera to take this picture showing the rover's arm extended toward a light-toned rock, Tisdale 2, during the 2,695th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Aug. 23, 2011.) Tisdale 2 is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall. (Photo courtesy of NASA.)

Greg Redfern, WTOP Radio

Autumn Arrives

Autumn begins at 5:05 a.m. on Sept. 23 and brings with it longer nights. As the temperatures begin to cool, this is a good time of year to get out and enjoy the night sky.

Skywatching Highlights

Mercury, the innermost and smallest planet in the solar system, will be low in the east before sunrise during the first 10 days of September. If you have a clear and unobstructed horizon, you should be able to see the golden-yellow planet. On Sept. 8 and 9, Mercury will be visible about a half hour before sunrise and very close to the star Regulus. Binoculars will help your viewing.

Venus is not readily visible this month.

Mars is visible in the east-northeast after rising around 2 a.m., daylight savings time. The thin, crescent moon will be just below and to the right of Mars on Sept. 23.

Jupiter dominates the eastern sky, rising around 10 p.m. It is very bright and will continue to brighten over the next two months.

Saturn is getting very low in the west as the sky gets dark and will no longer be visible around the middle of the month.

This month's full moon occurs on Sept. 12 and is called the "full harvest moon" in recognition of the harvesting season. Last quarter moon is on Sept. 20 and new moon is on the 27th.

Down to Earth events for September

  • The United States Naval Observatory has Monday night tours, but space is limited.

  • An open house at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory, will be held at 8 p.m. on Sept. 5 and Sept. 20. For more information, click here.

  • The National Capital Astronomers will have their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 10 at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory. Speaker Dr. Julie McEnery, GSFC, will present "Results from the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope." To read more, click here.

  • The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, or NOVAC, will meet at 7 p.m. on Sept. 11 at George Mason University. Dr. Pamela Gay will speak about Modern Solar System Exploration by You -- (No Telescope Required.)"

  • The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt will hold a star party at 8 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the Northway Field and Observatory. Additionally, the ASG will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 22 at the Owens Science Center where Patty Seaton will speak about the New Horizons Planetarium Show.

  • The TriState Astronomers will have a meeting on Sept. 21 at the Brish Planetarium.

  • NCA will hold an "Exploring the Sky" program at 8 p.m. on Sept. 24.

  • The National Air and Space Museum has several space-related activities this month. Among them, at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, star party host Sean O'Brien of the museum's Albert Einstein Planetarium and amateur astronomers will host Public Observing at Sky Meadows State Park.

Got a topic that interests you? I have literally an entire universe of subjects to select from for my column, but I'm interested in hearing from WTOP readers about what interests them. Feel free to contact me at with your suggestions and comments. I have also started a daily blog that you can follow here.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)