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Astronomy: Observing Highlights for September

9-2-11 Coat hanger cluster Chumack
The Coat Hanger Cluster in Vulpecula will get a visit from Comet Garradd this weekend. Credit: John Chumack

I can tell it's September just by watching the sun as it sets. In the summer months, the sun appears to set behind a farmer's corn field when viewed from my front lawn. But now that it's September, the sun is disappearing behind a forested hill, and as fall approaches, the sun will begin to set behind the houses across the meadow from me. It actually makes me a bit sad when I realize the sun is journeying its way back south (or, more correctly, we are beginning the tilt away from the sun). Even though it gets dark earlier so that I can go out and stargaze before I am half asleep, soon it will be so dark that I can’t even have dinner in daylight. And let’s not forget the impending cold and snow….

But September is still an ideal month to stargaze. In the first full week of September, watch as the crescent moon grows each evening, preparing for its Harvest Moon appearance on the 12th. Look east to find Jupiter rising, with the Pleiades Cluster (a sure sign of fall) coming up right behind it.

Your chances to find Comet Garradd improve as it brightens a bit more. This weekend, on September 3, look for the comet next to the Coat Hanger Cluster in Vulpecula. From a dark-sky site, both should be visible in binoculars. The other comet that was slated to brighten in September, Comet Elenin, may no longer be an observing option. It has dimmed dramatically and may have broken up as it neared the sun.

For more on observing this month, see The Night Sky Guide for September 2011.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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