Last Quarter Moon Graces Mornings, and Mercury Starts to Shine!
The Moon and Planets
The Moon spends this week rising later, and waning as it approaches Last Quarter on Friday morning. You can look for it in the eastern sky if you’re an early riser, or higher in the southern sky during your morning commute.
Speaking of early risers, Mercury is quickly moving into a brief, but spectacular viewing opportunity for northern hemisphere observers. Starting mid-week and continuing into next week, the little planet will precede the Sun above the eastern horizon, climbing higher and brightening every morning. At 6:30 am on Tuesday, it will sit about 5° (just under a palm’s width) above the horizon. As we move toward the coming weekend, it will be visible earlier every morning, in a darker pre-dawn sky.
Venus continues as the very bright object low in the western sky after sunset. It sets about 8:20 pm this week. If you view it through a telescope (only after the Sun has completely set), you’ll notice that it is not a full disk, but that it is only about 85% full. It’s also growing in size and brightening as it slowly moves towards us.
Don’t forget to check out Saturn and Mars low in the southwestern sky after darkness falls. Bright and reddish Mars sits well off to the east (left). Dimmer yellowish Saturn is about 14°, or 1.4 outstretched fist diameters, to the west (right) of Mars. The twinkling star Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius the Scorpion, is about 6° below Saturn. I’ll post a diagram here. Antares sets about 10 pm local time, followed by Saturn about 40 minutes later, and Mars at 11:15 pm. Saturn’s larger moons are visible even in a small telescope, under dark skies. They can appear above, below, or to either side of the ringed planet. Keep your eye on Mars, too, as every night it shifts eastward. It’s already entering the Milky Way.
Uranus and Neptune remain in the eastern evening sky. Uranus, between the fishes of Pisces, rises about 8:30 pm local time, while Neptune, in Aquarius the Water-Bearer is already up at dusk. Due to their extreme distance, they change location only a little from week to week. I posted a sky chart here.
Stargazing News for this week (from September 18th) by Chris Vaughan.