Aussies – Here’s Your September Guide To The Skies

This month’s highlights include a penumbral eclipse and the Small Magellanic Cloud.

With night-time temperatures rising as we move towards summer, September is the perfect time to gaze up to the skies.

Penumbral Eclipse

For early risers, 17 September offers the chance to the chance to see a penumbral eclipse.

"This is an eclipse where the circumstances place the moon only inside of the very light outer shadow of the Earth called the penumbra, rather than the darker inner shadow known as the umbra," said Larry Ciupik, an astronomer at Adler Planetarium.

"That outer shadow cone is so light that one normally barely notices the darkening moon as the eclipse progresses."

The eclipse will begin at 2:52am for those on the Eastern seaboard, 2:23am in Darwin/Adelaide and 0:53am in Perth.

September 2016 night sky chart

September 2016 night sky chart [Image: Sydney Observatory]

Small Magellanic Cloud

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) are the brightest galaxies in our neighbourhood and September is a great opportunity to see the SMC high in the southern sky.

The Small Magellanic Cloud, is five degrees across from its bigger sibling, the Large Magellanic Cloud, and is distinctly fainter. It is estimated to be home to a few million stars and is even farther away from us, at 210,000 light-years

To see SMC, look towards the southeast towards Achernar, the single bright star in that direction. To see the SMC’s nebulosity, take along some binoculars or a telescope. 

The tip of the "wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is dazzling in the view from NASA's Great Observatories (below).

The SMC is one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbours.

The SMC is one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbours.  [Image: NASA]

Even though it is a small, or so-called dwarf galaxy, the SMC is so bright that it is visible to the unaided eye from the Southern Hemisphere and near the equator.

Many navigators, including Ferdinand Magellan who lends his name to the SMC, used it to help find their way across the oceans.

Saturn, Mars and Antares

From 9 September, the red star Antares forms a kite shape with Mars, Saturn and the Moon.

To see the kite, locate Venus (which will be burning bright) and slowly move your gaze higher.

While Mars resides some 12 light-minutes from Earth and shines brightly thanks to sunlight reflecting off its iron oxide-rich deserts, Antares is a super red giant star that sits some 600 light-years from Earth.

The ancient Greeks gave the bright star its name Antares, which means “rival of Mars,” because its ruddy colour reminded them of the god of war, the red planet.

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