PostHeaderIcon September-October Sky 2009

September-October 2009 Starmap

(With an activity! If you complete it, you should send me a photo of yours, I’d love to see them!)

Notable Sky Objects


In every season’s sky there seems to be an object that is spectacular enough that people come up to me saying “Hey Alice, last night I saw…” I guess it is a little rude of me, so I apologize, but I can usually interrupt the sentence at this point and tell them what it was – which makes me seem almost psychic. Well sorry, but it isn’t magic, its pattern recognition. After three people have asked me about the same object, I naturally assume the next few will be asking about the same thing. I love supporting people’s excitement about the sky, and I love it that you come to me to ask what you saw – so keep it up, but just in case you want to make a guess for yourself first (or impress your friends), this season’s “Hey Alice!” object is the spectacular and bright Jupiter.


Jupiter will be highly visible most of the night in September and October. It will be rising in the Southeast, near the constellation Capricorn. If you pull out some binoculars and steady yourself against something, you should be able to pick out the moons of Jupiter, just like Galileo did.


Mercury and Saturn are too near the Sun from our point of view to be easily visible. You might catch a glimpse of Saturn in the early morning in very late October near the eastern horizon.


In early September: Mars is rising about 1am in Gemini, and Venus is rising around 4am in Cancer.
In late October: Mars is rising a little after midnight in Cancer. Venus will not be visible.


September 30 MESSENGER makes its third flyby of Mercury, and soon after that there will probably be some awesome new photos of this tiny, hot, rocky planet.

October – Don’t miss The Halloween Show in the Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center. We’ll be bringing back the newly spookified version of the historical astronomical connections to our modern candy-riffic holiday. It will be weekends at 2:30 – you can get tickets at our ticketbooths or online.


I’ve missed a few, but you shouldn’t. Check out #112, #113, #114, #115, #116, #117, #118, #119, and #120!

New Constellations

A recent survey of attendees of the Willard Smith Planetarium suggested that visitors would like to hear even more about current science and new discoveries. I still want to tie that back to the constellations we’re viewing whenever possible, so in this bi-monthly Sky Update I have attempted to share a piece of current science that can be associated with each constellation. I haven’t succeeded, I only found time to put in 3 things but they’re pretty cool, and I’ll keep building on this.

PISCES – The Fish

SCIENCE: M74 is one of the most beautiful face-on spiral galaxies I have ever seen.

M74 by Hubble

M74 by Hubble

MYTH: We often use the loop at the end of Pisces as the wings of Pegasus. Technically, these stars are in Pisces – but it sure helps to see Pegasus as a winged horse.

Returning Constellations

AQUILA – The Eagle

CURRENT: NASA’s new moon lander will be called Altair – after the brightest star in Aquila. Neat that it is a star in the constellation of the Eagle, when the first lander that landed on the Moon was also called the Eagle.

ANDROMEDA – The Princess

PERSEUS – Perseus

PEGASUS – The Flying Horse

CURRENT: On September 9th (2009) Hubble released four new images taken after the last servicing mission. They are breathtakingly beautiful as usual – but the one of Stephan’s Quintet was taken while Hubble was pointed at the constellation Pegasus. This is a great opportunities to talk about types of galaxies, interacting galaxies, or the size of the universe.

Stephan's Quintet by Hubble

Stephan's Quintet by Hubble


DELPHINUS – The Dolphin

LYRA – The Lyre

CYGNUS – The Swan

CURRENT: NASA’s Kepler mission (looking for Earth-like planets around other stars) is pointed at Cygnus, and will stay pointed between Cygnus and Lyra for the duration of its mission.

BOÖTES – The Herdsman

HERCULES – Hercules

CORONA BOREALIS – The Northern Crown

CEPHEUS – King Cepheus

DRACO – The Dragon

URSA MAJOR – The Great Bear

URSA MINOR – The Little Bear


“Tiny” Guys

Going for the Gold? Here’re this month’s itty-bittys.

ARIES – The Ram

AQUARIUS – The Water Bearer (not that small, but not on our map)

PISCES AUSTRINUS – The Southern Fish

MICROSCOPIUM – The Microscope

SERPENS – The Serpent

SCUTUM – The Shield


SAGGITA – The Arrow

EQUULEUS – The Horse


LACERTA – The Lizard

TRIANGULUM – The Triangle

LYNX – The Lynx

Wondering where I’ve been? Yeah, sorry about that. There was this grant, this major project, and this conference. I’ve gotten sick of seeing apologies for not posting all over the internet though, they remind me too much of the permanent “Under Construction” labels and animated gifs that were so prevalent on the web in the 90s. They aren’t usually interesting, I want to hear what the bloggers I follow really have to say, not that they’re sorry for not posting. So, I am actually sorry, and I hope I haven’t lost too many of you with such a long break, but I’ve hidden that apology down here at the bottom so you aren’t subjected to it if you don’t want to read it. :) Clear skies to you – or at least clear internet skies if you live somewhere with 200 days a year of cloudcover …

~ A l i c e !

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