A reader mentioned the other day that I seemed pessimistic about seeing the planet Saturn. You know, he was right. Although our favorite ringed planet has settled into obscurity low in the southwestern sky at dusk, it’s still in the game. I easily saw it with the naked eye last night three fingers (5 degrees) above and left of Venus starting about 40 minutes after sunset.
Venus was a snap! If you know where to look and your sky is clean and clear, you can easily find the planet when the sun’s still up. But 25 minutes after sunset, it’s already so bright it’s hard to miss.
Saturn passes closest to Venus this Wednesday Sept. 18 and continues moving west until its retirement from the evening sky later in fall. If you’ve had trouble knowing where to look for the planet, allow Venus to show you the way. Saturn hovers just 3.5 degrees north of Venus on the 18th but will be near it now through Sunday evening. A small telescope will still show the rings with ease.
As temperatures dip below the dew point at night, humid air gives rise to fog almost as soon as the sun sets. Last night it filled the nearby fields during twilight and rose and fell in slow waves under a brilliant gibbous moon. Pretty entrancing stuff.
The moon will be a chubby gibbous again tonight, but get ready for the full Harvest Moon coming later this week. We’ll have more on what makes it so special tomorrow.
I noticed last night while observing the moon through the telescope that the seasonal bird migration is well underway. In just a few minutes of gazing I counted a dozen flapping silhouettes flying past the craters Copernicus, Plato and Tycho. Lots more of these avian lunar transits are in store around the time of full moon for anyone with 15 minutes and a small telescope.