There are two Astro-Landscape September 2018 Highlights for this month –
- Four Visible Planets in a Row. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, in that order, will all be in a row across in the evening sky.
- Zodiacal Light. September and March are the only times of the year to see this phenomenon, and for only two weeks each month. The zodiacal light is a faint cone of light that stretches from the horizon up into the sky during the morning hours this month. See below for more details.
About these Notes
The following Astro-Landscape September 2018 photography notes is designed with the Astro-Landscape Photographer in mind. I searched the web for information about astronomical objects that were presented in a condensed form that a landscape photographer could use to plan interesting photographs. I couldn’t find any I liked, so I made this list for myself. After putting all this together, I figured I’d put it on the web for others to use so I expanded the scope to include information for a world-wide audience.
Please Note: All times are given in UTC, Coordinated Universal Time. Your local times may vary based on your location. If you’re unfamiliar with UTC, check out the excellent description at http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/universal-time. Even with that information, it can sometimes be confusing converting UTC times to your local time. To help with that, try http://www.timebie.com/std/utc.php for converting specific a UTC time to your local time.
Milky Way Core (MWC) Best Visibility – September 1st to 12th
The Milky Way Core is still visible world-wide, but it is only visible if the night sky gets dark enough to see it. The next deciding factor is the moon – if the moon is too bright or near the horizon, it washes out the sky giving poor MWC visibility. Interference from the moon does not change much with latitude. And third, the MWC is visible only in the evening hours now, setting around midnight.
Nighttime by Latitude
True nighttime returns to nearly all the Earth this month. Northern latitudes higher than 65° don’t reach true nighttime at the start of the month but that quickly changes as the September Equinox approaches.
Southern Hemisphere – the long nights of winter are coming to an end as the Earth reaches the September Equinox.
Nighttime Visibility by Latitude
|65° N||September 1 – Getting close to true nighttime.
September 5 – Nighttime returns! The length of nighttime increases quickly each night.
|60° N||More than 4 hours all month.|
|55° N and south||More than 5 hours all month.|
|Southern Hemisphere||Nighttime is getting shorter.|
|50° S||Still more than 7 hours of nighttime all month.|
Milky Way Core (MWC) Visibility
The Milky Way Core sets shortly after midnight at the start of September. A waning Moon at the start of the month doesn’t interfere with MWC visibility, especially after September 4th when the moon rises after the MWC sets. By the 13th, a growing waxing Moon begins to interfere with visibility. After the 15th, the Moon washes out the MWC all evening until the last few days when the Moon again rises near midnight. By the end of the month, the MWC will only be visible for about two hours as it now sets well before midnight.
Milky Way Core Visibility
|September 1-12||Best time for this month! MWC visible only from mid-evening until around midnight.|
|September 13-14||Less than 2 hours of MWC visibility.|
|September 15-26||MWC not visible without the moon being up.|
|September 27-29||Less than 2 hours of MWC visibility. Moon rising before midnight.|
|September 30||More than 2 hours of MWC visibility. Moon rising just before the MLC sets.|
September starts with a waning gibbous moon, about 6 days past full, rising after midnight. The new moon is on the 11th, so the first half of the month will have moonless evenings. By the 14th, a thin crescent moon appears in the evening sky. At month’s end, the moon is about 19 days old and is approaching last quarter.
|9/03 02:37 UTC||Third/Last Quarter||Waning Gibbous|
|9/09 18:01 UTC||New Moon|
|9/16 23:15 UTC||First Quarter||Waxing Gibbous|
|9/25 02:52 UTC||Full Moon|
|Lunar Trivia – American-Centric Traditional Moon Names for September|
Supposedly from “Native Americans” of the NE and Eastern USA
|Harvest Moon – this year, the full moon occurs near the September/Fall Equinox and is thus named for the harvest. The Harvest Moon usually occurs in September, but about every three years it happens in October. The Harvest Moon is the only moon name that is determined by when it occurs, rather than the month in which it occurs. When the full moon occurs early in September, it is known as the Corn Moon.|
|Anglo-Saxon||Corn or Barley Moon – Time to pick whatever grains grew in Old England.|
|9/23 01:54 UTC||September Equinox is the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere and fall in the northern hemisphere. On this date the sun rises due east and sets due west at every location on Earth.|
Highlights of the Month
|Four Planets in a Row!||For the second month in a row, for you ambitious Astro-Landscape photogs out there, you have the chance to get the four brightest planets in a row in the evening sky. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, in that order of appearance from the sun, will all be in a row across in the evening sky.
Venus and Spica
On September 1st, Venus will be nearly 1° away from the star Spica. Spica has a visual magnitude of 1.0 making it the 16th brightest star in our sky. With Spica being that bright the two should make a nice pair, even though Venus is several times brighter than Spica.
With Mars well past opposition and now firmly in the evening sky and Venus getting brighter with each night as it moves closer to Earth, these four brightest planets will be nicely spaced across the span of the evening sky. They are begging to have a panoramic portrait taken!
Mars will be low on the eastern horizon as the month starts, waiting about an hour after sunset will place Mars high enough to see its distinctive red color while keeping Venus high enough that it doesn’t get lost in the glare of the western horizon. There’s less than an hour of darkness to get the shot before Venus sets.
Don’t wait too long into the month. The moon will not be in the evening sky until the 11th. Mars will be higher in the sky later in the month, but Venus will be moving lower faster than Mars is climbing, so don’t delay.
|Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars surround the Milky Way Core||As in recent months, September offers a good opportunity to get three planets in proximity to the Milky Way Core (MWC). With Jupiter to the west, Mars moving closer to from the east, and Saturn still nearly dead center to the MWC, it’s a great opportunity photographically.|
|Mercury||The best time to see Mercury is in the first week of the month. Look for it on the eastern horizon right about 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise. It will disappear into the Sun’s glare after about the 10th of September.|
|Venus||After reaching Greatest Eastern Elongation on August 17th, Venus heads back towards the Sun. Look for it low on the horizon for mid- to high-northern latitude observers. It will be about 15° at the start of the month in the western sky just after sunset. By month’s end, it will be only about 7° from the horizon.
Still the brightest object in the evening sky. It even brightens as September progresses. That will help with seeing it as it sets only about 45 minutes after sunset by months end.
Telescopically, Venus will become a 17% crescent and increase to nearly 46” in size at the end of the month.
|Mars||Mars starts the month well above the eastern horizon during blue hour. It climbs higher into the eastern sky as the month continues. It still shines brightly a bit east of the Milky Way Core.
Mars will lose about half of its brightness this month. Hurry and catch it before it gets too dim to stand out.
|Jupiter||Jupiter is in the southwestern sky during evening hours.
It sets mid-evening at the beginning of September, but by the 30th it sets early in the evening.
Third brightest after Venus and Mars, but still nearly as bright as Mars.
|Saturn||Saturn rises along with the Milky Way Core through the entire month and is highest in the sky well before midnight.
Still brighter than most stars in the night sky.
Saturn’s retrograde motion ends on September 6thand it starts to slowly move towards Jupiter.
Telescope: The rings are still open at 26° which is near its maximum tilt. If you have the opportunity, look before it moves too far away to get a good view.
|Uranus||Rising in the early morning hours. Opposition will be in October.|
|Neptune||High in the south during dawn. Opposition will be in September.|
|Pluto||Really, if you don’t think Pluto is a planet, check out the photos from the New Horizons space probe. There are dunes of windblown methane ice crystals on it! https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html
It’s located about halfway between Saturn and Mars. If you look in this area for a second or two, you’ll certainly have a few photons that travelled from Pluto hit your retina! But it’s only Magnitude 14 so you’ll need a big scope to see it as an actual point in the sky.
|None in July 2018|
Note – The times given are for the closest approach. As the moon moves relatively quick across the sky, visibility of the closet approach will depend on your location.
|Date – UTC||Objects||Deg
|Moon Age||Moon Phase||Comments
|Moon + Jupiter||4° 22’||5 days||Waxing Crescent||Low on Western Horizon.
Not very close.
1 out of 5
|Moon + Saturn||2° 03’||8 days||Waxing Gibbous||Getting close.
3 out of 5
|Moon + Mars||4° 46’||11 days||Waxing Gibbous||Not very close.
1 out of 5
Two Showers this Month
There are two meteor showers that beginning at the end of September – the Orionids and the Southern Taurids. Coincidentally the both start on September 23rd! Neither one of these showers is expected to be spectacular…
Orionids – Peak October 21st
The Orionids are a medium strength shower but sometimes they do reach higher hourly rates. They typically produce about 25 meteors at maximum. They had a several years (2006-2009) where 50-75 per hour were reached. However, this year the peak maximum is expected to occur during daylight hours for North America. The Radiant is from near the star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion. It lies in the SE skies for the Northern hemisphere and NE for Southern skies. This shower is associated with the famous Halley’s Comet.
Southern Taurid – Peak November 5th
The Southern Taurids are a weak to medium strength shower. They typically produce at most 5 meteors per hour at maximum. They are known for colorful fireballs which occur throughout the months of September, October, and November. In 2005 there was a Taurid fireball “swarm” with bright, slow-moving fireballs. The radiant is from the constellation Taurus.
The zodiacal light is a faint cone of light that stretches from the horizon up into the sky along the ecliptic, the path the planets take as they orbit the sun. This light is sunlight that is scattered by interplanetary dust. If that isn’t enough to make the zodiacal light special, they are only visible during the months of September and March. During September, this phenomenon is only visible for a couple weeks starting on about September 5th.
Look into the east about two hours before sunrise. The zodiacal light is faint, and any light pollution or moonlight will obscure it. When observing from a truly dark sky location (Bortle 2 or less), Zodiacal light has a distinctly yellowish color and is bright enough to cast shadows. Don’t worry if you can’t get to a dark sky site, as you can still see the zodiacal light in a Bortle 4, characterized by the transition zone between rural and suburban locations.
Even though the zodiacal light can appear relatively bright, it will be washed out by the Moon. Fortunately, this month the moon is approaching new Moon during this period, so it will not interfere with seeing.
For up to the minute aurora forecasts, check out the information at http://auroraforecast.gi.alaska.edu/ For an animated forecast maps for both northern and southern hemisphere, try https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast
As we approach the end of Solar Cycle 24 in the next, the outlook for solar activity that causes the aurora is expected to increase in the next several years. Despite the current Solar Cycle being very low in activity, aurora activity has been occasionally spectacular. Look for auroras to increase in the next few years. There was even a Kp5 (auroras are measured on a scale of 0 to 9) at the end of August, so even though we’re in a period of very low overall activity, there can still be occasionally high activity.
|Northern Hemisphere||Good – night skies are getting dark enough for good viewing.|
|Southern Hemisphere||Still Good.|
“Night clouds” are a tenuous, cloud-like phenomena in the upper atmosphere. They are made of ice crystals and are only visible in a deep twilight. Noctilucent clouds are typically visible at higher latitudes in each hemisphere but can occasionally be seen at lower latitudes when the sun is well below the horizon.
|Northern Hemisphere from 50° to 70°||Opportunities are decreasing as the sun’s path moves south. Look in the direction of where the sun is, as it moves below the northern horizon.|
|Southern Hemisphere from 50° to 70°||Not likely to be visible.|
ISS and Satellites
Go to https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/ and sign up for flyover alerts. Usually show up about 12 hours before the flyover. They tell the time, compass directions, angular elevation, and length of time of the flyover. Check for your location as the time of the flyover greatly affects the visibility of the ISS.
|Northern Hemisphere||It’s still a good time of year to see ISS flyovers even though the sun is moving further south in its path.|
|Southern Hemisphere||Opportunities to see longer flyovers are increasing as the summer months are approaching|
ISS Transits of the Sun or Moon
There is a possibility that the ISS will pass directly between any location on Earth and the Moon or the Sun. These transits are highly dependent on where the observer is located. And higher latitudes decrease the chances of these transits. The best way to find if a transit will happen nearby, go to https://transit-finder.com/
Since the ISS is moving at about 17,000 mph (27,000 km/hr), transits happen quickly! Lasting from about 5 seconds to less than one second. Since these transits happen so quickly, you need to plan ahead! Instead of trying to see the transit and then triggering your shutter by hand, have your camera set up and then either shoot HD or 4K video or have the camera shoot at it’s fastest frame rate. You’ll get more frames shooting video, especially if you have a camera that can shoot at 120 fps.
For Solar Transits, make sure you use a solar filter that meets ISO 12312-2:2015 Requirements. The same filter that you got for the Great American Solar Eclipse last year will work well. Don’t trust your camera to a standard photographic ND filter as they will most likely not filter out Infrared light. You will risk frying your camera sensor by not having the proper filter.
|Nothing of note this month.|
Andromeda Constellation and the Andromeda Galaxy
Despite the Andromeda Constellation being a rather lack-luster asterism, the Andromeda Galaxy is a jewel of the northern sky. It is the nearest galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy, only a mere 2.5 million light-years away. It’s our nearest galactic neighbor and is considered a twin to the Milky Way. Both are spiral galaxies – they look like a flat disk of stars with a brighter bulge in the center, and several darker spirals circling around the center. The Andromeda Galaxy is so far away you can’t normally see any individual stars in it unless there is a supernova happening there. Looking at the Andromeda Galaxy looks rather like what looking back at the Milky Way would look like if one was viewing from the Andromeda Galaxy.
Photographing the Andromeda Galaxy
Since the Andromeda Galaxy is so close, it is relatively large in our sky. It has an apparent size of about 3° x 1°. That’s large enough to show up well in most all the lenses in an Astro Photographers’ camera bag. To isolate it in your viewfinder, a 600 mm lens on a full frame (FF) camera would frame it tightly. (An APS-C camera would only need a 400 mm lens to get a similar view.) Lenses that long would really benefit from a star tracker, but if you don’t have one, you can also try shooting it with a 200 mm lens by shooting one hundred frames of 3 seconds each and then stacking them to reduce noise and increase signal.
No Tracker – Don’t Worry
But don’t count yourself out if you don’t have a tracker and a big telephoto lens. Since the Andromeda Galaxy is relatively large, it will show up even in wide angle landscape photographs. I used a 14mm ultrawide-angle lens on my full frame Sony a7III when shooting the Perseids in August and I was pleasantly surprised to see it show up in the photos. Sure, it’s small on FF cameras at 14mm, but it’s there and noticeable.
The Andromeda Galaxy is in the constellation, wait for it – Andromeda. The Andromeda constellation is not an asterism that is easily recognizable, as the brightest stars in it are Magnitude 2 and dimmer. That’s dim enough that they don’t really stand out in suburban areas. In fact, one of the brightest stars in this constellation is sometimes included in the adjacent constellation Pegasus.
The name “Andromeda” dates to ancient Greece. She represents the daughter of Cassiopeia, the Queen of Ethiopia, who can be found sitting in the heavens adjacent to Andromeda. The constellation Cassiopeia is easier to find in the night sky than Andromeda.
How to Find the Andromeda Galaxy
To find the Andromeda Galaxy, first locate Cassiopeia by following the Milky Way north from Deneb located at the head of the constellation Cygnus or the Summer Triangle. (See last month’s Astro-Photo Notes for more on the Summer Triangle). Look for a series of five stars that make the shape of a “W” or a chair. This “chair” is said to represent Cassiopeia’s throne. If you’ve reached the Little Dipper, you’ve gone too far. From Cassiopeia, look a little south and you should see the Andromeda Galaxy. It will look like a fuzzy disk. Since it’s relatively bright it can be seen even in locations with moderate light pollution. On star charts, the Andromeda Galaxy is often referred to as M31.
Dark Sky Locations – Cherry Springs State Park, PA
This month I’ve picked a location in the Middle Atlantic state of Pennsylvania – Cherry Springs State Park. http://darksky.org/idsp/parks/cherrysprings/ Cherry Springs is just outside of Coudersport, PA, in the middle of Pennsylvania’s north so it’s not near any major cities. Combined with an elevation of 2300 ft (700 m), this makes it superb for Astro-Landscape photography and star gazing, earning Cherry Springs a “Gold Level Dark Sky Park” designation from the International Dark Sky Association.
Cherry Springs is in an island of Bortle Class 3 (Rural Skies) that is surrounded by much brighter skies. It’s centrally located between several major metropolitan areas – New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
360 degree Astronomy Field
Cherry Springs is open year-round and has an “Astronomy Field” with an unobstructed 360-degree view. Private Guided Star Tours are available and reasonably priced, and Photography Workshops are also offered. Cherry Springs also host Star Parties which are a great way to learn more about telescopes and the night sky.
Lodging is available nearby and there are several other locations that will be of interest to the Astro-Landscape photographer – the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, the Kinzua Skywalk, and the Austin Dam Ruins are all interesting features that can be found nearby.
For more information, visit https://cherryspringsstatepark.com/
International Dark Sky Association
Dark Sky locations help greatly with photographing the Milky Way. To help readers of this blog, I’m listing a dark sky location each month that readers might be interested in visiting. For more information, I’d like to recommend visiting the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) website at http://darksky.org/about/ The IDA maintains a list of some of the world’s best dark sky locations. They are also dedicated to educating people about light pollution and how to reduce it.
If you find any info that needs clarification or correction for this Astro-Landscape September 2018 Notes, please email me at email@example.com.
If you need to look up last month’s Astro-Landscape Photography Notes, you can find them here: Astro-Landscape August 2018.