The late September and early October nights bring with them a few things; crunchy leaves for evening walks, pumpkin spice lattes for the masses and the best time of year to get planet spotting. There are five – yes, five – planets that are observable with relative ease this time of year (and mostly without a telescope or binoculars).
So if you’ve ever wondered how to spot them, what they would look like and which one is actually is, you’ve come to the right place!
The red planet is certainly hard to ignore in the night sky this time of year. But have you noticed it’s even brighter than usual? This is due to a once in 2 year event where we (planet Earth) will be passing between the sun and Mars. During the next few weeks, Mars will actually appear brighter than giant Jupiter in our skies – quite an impressive display of brightness from our little brother planet. And its proximity to Earth isn’t just an illusion, it is getting closer! Reddit user u/NightSkyFlying has been imaging Mars since early March; check out the progression!
This is the closest Mars will appear to Earth, so get outside to spot it! It’s unmistakably bright and orange in our sky, due to the iron oxide on its surface. To spot it, look Southeast. Mars can be seen towards the southeast at the start of the month rising at 9:45pm as September begins and 2 hours earlier by its end. A beautiful sight to see!
Jupiter & Saturn
Though Jupiter has been overtaken by Mars in terms of brightness, it’s still worth a look! Saturn always follows behind Jupiter this time of year, not as bright but still visible. This time of year arguably is a better time to spot these gas giants than the summer. That’s because these two gaseous worlds remain bright and beautiful throughout September, yet appear highest up for the night right around nightfall.
That’s good news for people with telescopes who don’t want to stay up late. It’s quite convenient to have Jupiter and Saturn highest up for the night as soon as darkness falls. Good for young planet spotters!
First, look for Jupiter in the South, Saturn will be just to the East. Remember, planets reflect a flat light and do not twinkle. If you have a telescope or binoculars, you can spot Saturn’s rings and if you are lucky maybe one of Jupiter’s Galilean moons!
Ah Venus! Earth’s evil twin that harbours life? Who knows! But you can spot Venus easily this time of year – but only if you want to get up early. Venus is the brightest planet in the sky due to its proximity and cloudy atmosphere which reflects light beautifully.
Thought Venus is best spotted other times of the year, if you want an early morning planet companion Venus will be your friend. Look East in the sky about 2 hours prior to sun rise to get the best view.
Now, is Mercury spectacular this month? Absolutely not. But you can still spot this tiny planet if you try! It’s minimally visible from the Northern Hemisphere, but if you want to try look very low on the horizon in the East just after the sun sets. Remember if you are using binoculars please wait until the sun has set – we don’t want anyone frying their retinas!
So here is a selection of planets for your perusing this month. Remember, planets reflect a flat light and do not twinkle. Give planet spotting a go this autumn!