September starts with full darkness at 10.20pm so the enjoyment of stargazing goes up a notch or two. Unfortunately the recent weather has been against us in the north west, so fingers crossed for clearer conditions as autumn approaches.
In the northern evening sky, The Plough is low on the horizon, so Cygnus, Cepheus and Cassiopeia are overhead in the Milky Way. As the night proceeds, Cassiopeia is joined by Perseus, separated by the “Double Cluster”: two open star clusters comfortably visible to the naked eye from a dark location. These two clusters are spectacular in binoculars or a small telescope. They are also heading towards us at about 22km/sec!
Looking to the south, the Milky Way hits the horizon almost vertically as darkness falls. To its right, (west) the constellation of Hercules has a “square” of four stars forming its centre – look about a third of the way down the right-hand side of the square to find star cluster M13, again looking fine in binoculars. To the left (east) of the Milky Way, the constellation of Pegasus is also based round a large square, and a few star-hops from the top left corner will bring you to M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. Wonderful viewing opportunities for a not-too-late session.
Aldebaran and the Moon
For about an hour, in the morning twilight of the 5th, the Moon will pass in front of the star Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus. From Kendal, the Moon will occult Aldebaran from 5:49am to 7:04am, which might just be an opportunity for a little time-lapse video.
The best seats in the house will be overnight on the 28th to the 29th, when we are treated to a total eclipse of the Moon from about two o’clock to half past five BST. The last time this event was visible from the UK was in December 2010, when totality occurred at sunrise, so we couldn’t enjoy the whole event on that occasion. This time round, the whole of the total eclipse will pass before sunrise, and all but the last few minutes will be in full astronomical darkness.
The remarkable Fred Espinak is the best source of data for eclipses, so here is the link to his page for this one. Remember the times are GMT so you will have to add an hour for BST. I’ll be out all night somewhere with a camera.