Backyard Astronomy: September 2015

Here are some fun astronomical events you and your family can enjoy in the month of September. All you need is an inexpensive telescope or binoculars for most of these events, but some of them are viewable with the naked eye.

September 4: Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation. What this means in plain language is that Mercury will be at its greatest apparent distance (27 degrees) from the Sun in the sky. It’s a great time to observe Mercury, because it’ll be highest in the sky in the evening, just after sunset.

September 23: September Equinox. During an equinox, the Sun shines directly onto the equator, so there is an equal amount of day and night everywhere in the world. This marks the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere (Autumnal Equinox), and the first day of spring in the Southern Hemisphere (Vernal Equinox).

September 27-28: Total Lunar Eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth moves between the Sun and the Moon (see below). Unlike a solar eclipse, in which the Moon moves between the Sun and the Earth, you don’t need any protective eyewear to watch a lunar eclipse. During the eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker, ultimately turning red in color. The lunar eclipse will be visible from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia. See here to determine visibility and times in your part of the world.