September nights hold lots of wonderful treats for amateur astronomers to see with binoculars and telescopes. See some of our top September stargazing suggestions below:
A Planetary Bonanza in September - Early in the month, Venus shines bright in the western sky shortly after sunset. Important conjunction dates for Venus watchers are: September 8th, when the Moon will be close in the sky to both the bright star Spica and Venus; also on September 8th and 9th Venus and Saturn will be only about 3.5 degrees from each other.
Jupiter is rising sooner and sooner, dominating morning skies. On September 28, Jupiter and the Moon will appear close to each other in the sky.
Mars is also visible in the morning skies of September and will make a couple of really sweet pairings. On September 8th and 9th, Mars crosses in front of the Beehive Star Cluster in the constellation Cancer. On the 27th, Mars and Comet ISON make a close approach in space with Mars appearing just 2 degrees north of Comet ISON. You'll need a fairly large telescope to see Comet ISON this early in the year - it took an 11-inch telescope to photograph it in mid-August.
The Northern Milky Way - Early in the month, around 9 PM, the "Summer Triangle" of three bright stars (Vega, Deneb and Altair) is nearly overhead. In the northernmost portion of the Summer Triangle, you'll see the brightest portion of the northern Milky Way. Point a telescope there and you'll discover that the fuzzy outlines of the Milky Way will resolve into fields of glittering stars.
Planetary Nebulas in the Summer Triangle - Get a star chart and see how many of these you can find in September: the famous Ring Nebula (M57) in the constellation Lyra; the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula; and the "Blinking Planetary," NGC 6826 in Cygnus. Not far outside the western boundary of the Summer Triangle is a small, but intensely colorful planetary nebula, NGC 6572. All these can be seen in a 6" or larger telescope. An Oxygen-III filter will help.
Neighbor Galaxy - In early September, lurking low in the northeast sky is another galaxy, separate from our Milky Way - the Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). From a very dark, moonless sky, M31 is visible with the unaided eye as a slightly fuzzy spot. A pair of 7x50, 9x63 or larger binoculars will give you a much better view and telescopes will reveal some of the subtle dust lanes in the neighboring galaxy.
More Extra-Galactic Treats - If you haven't tracked down "The Whirlpool Galaxy," M51, just off the handle of the easily recognizable Big Dipper asterism, do it now while you still can! It will be too low for most to get a good view after September and you'll need to wait until late winter or next spring to catch a good view of this truly picturesque galaxy.
A Brilliant Open Star Cluster - Off the western end of the constellation Cassiopeia is the beautiful Open Star Cluster M52. You can find it with 50mm or larger binoculars from a dark sky site, but the view is definitely better in a telescope. With a larger scope, say 8" or larger, and with the aid of an Orion UltraBlock or Oxygen-III eyepiece filter, you may even be able to catch views of faint emission nebulas near M52.
Two More Brilliant Star Clusters - If you liked sparkling M52, you'll love the popular favorite "Double Cluster in Perseus." Lying between constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus is a bright, fuzzy spot in the Milky Way, and a binocular or telescope will reveal two, bright open star clusters close to one another. In early September the "Double Cluster" appears low in northeastern skies around 9 PM, but it becomes a real showpiece later in the evening as it climbs higher in the sky.
The Globular Star Clusters of September - Almost in a row, off the western side of the constellation Pegasus are three globular star clusters that line up almost north-south. These sparkling clusters are, starting with the most northern globular, M15 in Pegasus; M2 in Aquarius and M30 in Capricorn. From a dark sky site you can easily find all of them in binoculars!
The Challenging Veil - A challenge object for September is the Veil Nebula, a supernova remnant, in Cygnus which is almost overhead as soon as it gets dark. With a star chart, aim your telescope at the naked eye star 52 Cygni. One branch of the Veil crosses over this star and to the east are brighter segments of this roughly circular nebula. While the Veil can be seen in big binoculars by expert observers under very dark skies, you will likely need at least a 5" telescope and an Orion Oxygen-III eyepiece filter if you are near city lights.
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars. All objects have been verified by actual observations by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars Staff at Fremont Peak State Park, and/or Deep Sky Ranch, 60 miles and 90 miles respectively from San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA.