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Astro Bob: What's up in September? Check out these highlights

A look at the best and brightest night-sky sights as we transition from summer to fall.

Jupiter with Pegasus Square August 29 2022 Outline.jpg
In September, Jupiter shines about a fist and a half (15°) below the Great Square of Pegasus, a prominent box-shaped asterism in the constellation Pegasus the flying horse. The stars in the Great Square appear more obvious to the eye than the photograph shows.
Contributed / Bob King
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It’s hard to believe summer is slipping by. We see it in earlier sunsets and seasonal changes in the weather and woods. The sky is no different. Warm-weather constellations like Sagittarius and Aquila still hold sway during the early evening hours, but the fall groups are itching to take over. By 10 p.m. local time, the eastern half of the sky is fully decked out in autumnal garb, with the likes of Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Andromeda and Aquarius.

Aurora and Dipper
During September, the Big Dipper slides ever lower in the northwestern sky. I took this photo during the aurora Wednesday night, Aug. 31.
Contributed / Bob King

Even the Big Dipper, the most recognizable part of Ursa Major the Great Bear, is skedaddling, sinking toward the northwestern horizon. From the southern U.S. the bear will soon “hibernate” out of view at the bottom of the northern sky. For those living in the northern part of the country, the bruin never sets. After a light nap under the Pole Star, he climbs back into view standing on his tail.

The Great Square of Pegasus is a great place to begin learning the early fall constellations. Face east around 9 p.m. and look for four equally bright stars enclosing a big, empty space about two fists directly above the brilliant planet Jupiter. Although the stars outline a square, Pegasus is tipped on its end early in the evening and looks more like a diamond.

Jupiter and moons
Jupiter and its four bright moons as they'll appear through a small reflecting telescope Thursday, Sept. 1, around 10-11 p.m. CDT. Reflecting telescopes flip directions both side-to-side and up and down, so south is up in this simulated view.
Contributed / Stellarium

Jupiter is by far the most captivating planet this month, dominating the eastern sky after 9:30 p.m. You can hardly take your eye off the brilliant gas giant. Saturn remains low in the southeastern sky, but it's the brightest "star" in that direction and well placed for viewing by 9 p.m.

Mars and Pleiades
Rising Mars and the Pleiades star cluster are reflected in Lake Kabetogama near International Falls on Aug. 20. Airglow from excited air molecules colors the sky pale green.
Contributed / Bob King

If you're up late, the red eye of Mars makes its first appearance low in the northeastern sky around 11:30 p.m. Venus is still visible very low in the east at dawn early in the month but will disappear in the solar glare around the first day of fall. This year that falls (pardon the pun) on Thursday, September 22.


Zodiacal light
The glowing cone of the zodiacal light stands tall in the eastern sky just before dawn in October 2021. For details on how to see it this month see the events list below.
Contributed / Bob King

*Note: When “a.m.” follows the date, it refers to an event visible in the morning sky after midnight. All times are Central Daylight Time (CDT) unless otherwise noted.


Sept. 3 First quarter moon.

Sept. 7 Waxing gibbous moon shines to the right and below Saturn.

Sept. 9 and 10 Full Harvest Moon. For several nights in a row, the delay between successive moonrises will be just 20 minutes.

Sept. 10-11 — Full moon will shine near Jupiter on both nights.

Sept. 16 a.m. Waning moon will beam just to the left (east) of bright Mars.

Sept. 17 — Last quarter moon.

Sept. 20 a.m. — Thin crescent moon lines up directly below Gemini’s two brightest stars, Pollux and Castor.


Sept. 22 — Fall begins at 8:03 p.m. when the sun crosses the celestial equator moving south. Day and night are both 12 hours long no matter where you are on the planet.

Sept. 23 to Oct. 6 — Look for the zodiacal light towering in the eastern sky starting about an hour before dawn for the next two weeks. Only visible from dark skies, it looks like a big, cone-shaped glow tapering upward from the horizon. You’re seeing comet dust — and possibly also dust from Martian dust storms — back-lit by the sun.

Sept. 24 a.m. — Very thin lunar crescent stands about 9° above Venus this morning a half-hour before sunrise.

Sept. 25 — New Moon.

Sept. 26 — Jupiter will be at opposition, when it’s brightest and closest to the Earth for the year. Although oppositions occur each year, some are closer than others. This one is exceptional — the two planets won’t get closer until Oct. 21-29. Face east around 8:30-9 p.m. You can't miss Jupiter!

Sept. 30 — Thin crescent moon passes 1.6° above red Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius, low in the southwestern sky at dusk.

Read more from Astro Bob
Solar blasts are expected to arrive Monday evening and last through Tuesday. To help plan, we've got tips on aurora apps for your phone.

"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at nightsky55@gmail.com.
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