Huestis: September Stargazing

Sunday, September 03, 2017
David Huestis, GoLocalWorcester Astronomy Expert

Amateur astronomers and casual stargazers look forward to the month of September. Here in Southern New England the hazy, hot and humid days of summer are mostly behind us. With humidity levels much lower the skies become more transparent. Combine those conditions with earlier sunset times, and the nighttime heavens can be explored at a reasonable time in the evening. Let’s examine a few objects that can be observed with either your unaided eyes, binoculars, or a telescope. And if you don’t have a telescope to explore some of these in greater detail, then visit one of the local observatories and ask the volunteer telescope operators to acquire your favorite.

At the beginning of September Jupiter will be very low in the west after sunset. You’ll need an unobstructed view of the horizon to observe this Jovian world. Jupiter will soon be too close to the Sun in the sky to be seen. Beautiful Saturn will be visible through the end of October, depending on one’s view of the west south-west horizon. Its ring system is wide open, tilted 27 degrees. Crank up the magnification and marvel at the spectacle before you. On nights of steady seeing, the kids who visit Seagrave Observatory or Ladd Observatory often exclaim “cool” or “awesome,” followed by “it looks like a sticker.”

In addition, this month would be a good time to catch a glimpse of the most distant planets in our solar system. Well, two planets and one dwarf planet. Since the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status in 2006, those planets now are Uranus and Neptune. These gas giants look like little blue-green disks through a telescope. You won’t see any detail, but you can boast of catching a glimpse of these distant worlds.

Unless you know specifically where to look, these distant bodies can be difficult to locate. Finder charts can be accessed on the internet. While Uranus can be seen in a dark moon-less sky with the naked-eye, Neptune requires at least binoculars to find. Both planets reveal a blue-green disk under medium- to high magnification. A fairly large computer-controlled telescope is required to locate Pluto. This dwarf-planet will look like one of the many faint stars occupying the same field of view. Assuming the computer correctly positioned the telescope, Pluto will be one of those points of light you can see through the eyepiece. Computer-assisted telescopes at the local observatories can guarantee your sighting of these far away worlds.

On September 5 the distances in miles these three objects will be from the Earth and the constellations in which they can be found are as follows: Uranus (1,784,000,000 in Pisces), Neptune (2,690,000,000 at 1:13am closest to the Earth for 2017 in Aquarius) and Pluto (3,051,000,000 in Sagittarius).

If you wish to get a good look at our own Milky Way galaxy soon after twilight fades, then the month of September provides a continued opportunity. From many light-polluted locations in Rhode Island our “island universe” may only appear as a milky patch of light spanning the sky from north to south. (That is, if it is visible at all.) Some casual stargazers may mistake this glow as thin cirrus clouds. However, it is really the light from some of the 400 billion stars of our Milky Way galaxy.

From a really dark sky location, like that found at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, one can still observe the spender of the Milky Way as it stretches from the constellation Perseus towards the southern horizon. A pair of binoculars will show beautiful clusters of stars within its boundaries. And if you have a small telescope, just scan up and down the Milky Way’s length with a wide-field eyepiece. You’ll be rewarded with many fine views of dense star fields.

In the region of the constellation of Cygnus the swan (also known as the Northern Cross), the Milky Way divides into two bands, separated by obscuring dust called the Great Rift. Take a look with binoculars to start and scan this area. It is a very beautiful region of space. If you have a telescope of any size, don’t hesitate to sweep this area. Farther along one can find a wide variety of star clusters and nebulae.

In the constellation of Scutum we come to a star cloud of the same name. In a dark sky, your eye will see a much greater expanse of milky haze. This eastern band is one of the brightest in the Milky Way because there is no intervening dust and gas to block our view of the stars. Astronomer E.E. Barnard (1857-1923) wrote, “the stars pile up in great cumulus masses like summer clouds.” A prominent open cluster known as the Wild Duck Nebula can be found here. You can spend many hours exploring the riches of our galaxy.

Did you know that an observer in a relatively dark sky can see another galaxy with just the naked eye?  After sunset look towards the northeast sky for the constellation of Andromeda. At the top of a chain of fairly bright stars you will notice an elongated fuzzy path of light. This object is the Great Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way. It is a barred spiral like the Milky Way, containing about 400 billion stars. Recent measurements indicate it is 2.5 million light years distant. A pair of 7 X 50 binoculars will reveal a little more of its elongated shape.

Telescopes of increasing aperture will reveal more of the structure of our galactic neighbor. Telescopes at Seagrave and Frosty Drew observatories actually reveal the spiral arms and dust lanes. The view is quite impressive. If clear skies prevail during the open nights at the local observatories, ask one of the volunteer sky interpreters to show you the Great Andromeda Galaxy.

Keep your eyes to the skies.

David A. Huestis

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    According to, prime foliage season in New England is late September into early October.

    Look forward to an enjoyable walk around the neighborhood and see how many different colors you can pick out, or just enjoy the beauty.

  • Pumpkin Picking

    The fall season signifies the return of pumpkins. Pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie and most of all pumpkin picking.

    Pumpkin picking is a timeless event for families, especially those with young kids who will love to just run around and grab whichever pumpkin looks good to them.

    Jaswell's Farm or Barden Family Orchard are great places to get started.

  • The Big E 

    The Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts features a circus spectacular, Mardi Gras parade, agricultural competitions, arts & crafts, food contests, live music, and midway. 

    The Big runs from September 15 to October 1. 

    Click here for more information

  • Great Pumpkin Festival 

    The Great Pumpkin Festival at the EcoTarium in Worcester is a must attend this fall in New England. 

    The event features more than 1000 carved pumpkins, live entertainment, family fun with trick-or-treating, displays and more.

    Click here for more information

  • Sam Adams Octoberfest Beer

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    The Oktoberfest idea was born in 1810 when Munich celebrated the Crown Prince's wedding with a 16-day party with a special beer.

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  • Phantom Gourmet Food Festival

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    Tickets are $40 in advance and online and will go up to $50 at the event.

    The ticket includes sampling 100 of Phantom's foods from hot dogs and pizza to pulled pork and more. Beer and wine will be served on the street.

    Get more information here.

  • The New England Patriots Return

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    The Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls and are heavily favored to win another this season. 

    The Patriots kick off their season on Thursday, September 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

  • Apple Picking

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    Nothing more fun than grabbing the nicest looking apple that you can find, giving it a quick wash off and then biting into it. Delicious.

    Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Phantom Farm are two great places to go and pick yourself some apples in Rhode Island.

  • Columbus Day Festival on Federal Hill

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    The feast will take place from October 7 through October 9. 

    Click here for more information.

  • Fall Boat Ride to Block Island

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    Fall trips to Block Island are something to look forward too.

    Click here for more information.

  • Wearing Fleece

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  • Attend Waterfire in Providence

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    The fall is a great time of year for golfing at Harbor Lights or any of the courses across the state.  

    The fall offers some of the best golfing weather of the year, not too hot and not too cold. 

    Golf season has not left.

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    The event will feature Harpoon brews, bratwursts, chicken dancing and German chocolate cake eating contests as well as Oompah music.

    Harpoon Brewery is located at 306 Northern Ave in Boston.

    Click here for more information or for tickets.

  • Roger Waters at TD Garden 

    One of the musical highlights of the fall season is rock n' roll legend Roger Waters coming to Boston's TD Garden. 

    The former Pink Floyd star will play two shows in Boston, the first on Wednesday, September 27 and the second on Thursday, September 28. 

    Click here for more information 

  • King Richards Faire 

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    The Fair runs from September 2 through October 22. 

    Click here for more information 



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