The Planets

September's night sky is relatively devoid of planetary activity as most of the bright planeLs are located too close Lo the Sun in the sky for us to see properly. The lovely Saturn is sadly lost in the glare of the Sun, as are both Venus and Mercury. Even Mars is hiding from our gaze in the bright twilight.

i Orion returns in December! Prepare for spectacular winter skies i Orion returns in December! Prepare for spectacular winter skies

a Take a look at Jupiter with a 6-inch telescope this month

Thankfully there's one saving grace, in that Jupiter is on show due south at about 1:30am in the middle of the month. A telescope with a diameter of around 6 inches will show detail on Jupiter's bright disc, including [he dark band Lhat encircles it. At the right times, under good seeing, the Jovian Storm known as the Great Red Spot is also visible. We're used to seeing two dark salmon-brown coloured bands crossing Jupiter's disc. But earlier ibis year one of them, the South Equatorial Belt, faded away so it's now left with just one main belt. It's not known exactly when the band may return, though this is not the firs! time a cloud band on Jupiter has disappeared, so it shouldn't be permanent.

As we move into October, November and eventually December, Jupiter becomes progressively belter placed for observation in the early evening. By early December you'll find it just over 33° above the southern horizon at 7pm, Come March, Jupiter will be low in the west just after sunset. Be sure to look out for its four brightest

a The Whirlpool Galaxy, or M51, in the constellation of Canes Venatici with its small companion NGC 5195
a M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is a spectacular sight that every astronomer should tick off each season

Under good seeing, the Jovian storm known as the Great Red Spot is also visible moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. You can track their movements from night to night with a small telescope of 4 inches in diameter. Mid September is a good time to look out for the distant gas giant Uranus, sitting not far away from Jupiter. It's technically just within naked eye visibility, and a pair of binoculars will show it sitting against the stars near the head of Pisces.

As we get to December, Venus and Saturn are visible low in the southeast during the hours before dawn. With the start of the New Year you'll have a better chance to look at Saturn as it climbs into the south. By the end of March, it will be visible in the south about 30° above the horizon at the slightly more reasonable time of midnight. A small telescope of around 4 to 6 inches in diameter will show you the planet's rings and the brightest of its many moons.

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