Science

The Sky Above You – September 2022

By Duncan Lunan

The September Full Moon, the Harvest Moon, will be on September 10th.  The Moon will be New on September 25th, two days after this year’s autumn equinox.  On September 14th the Moon will occult the planet Uranus, as it did in May, but this time the event will be visible from the UK.  The event will begin at 10.27 p.m. in London, 10.37 p.m. in Edinburgh, ending at 11.21 p.m. and 11.27 p.m. respectively, with all events still later further north.  

CAPSTONE, NASA’s navigational prototype for future manned landings, is on its way to the Moon and due to arrive on November 13th.  South Korea’s first spaceprobe, Danuri  (‘Enjoy the Moon’)  is due to reach the Moon in December, carrying the Arizona State University’s Shadowcam, to photograph the dark floors of ice-filled craters near the Moon’s poles.  Both CAPSTONE and Danuri are taking so long to get there because they’re following minimum-energy flight paths.  The Artemis 1 mission, first test of the Space Launch System super-booster, was scheduled for August 29th but has been postponed till September 2nd at the earliest.  It will place the Orion capsule for future manned missions in temporary orbit around the Moon, and meanwhile will release 9 ‘cubesats’ for lunar studies, including Lunar Flashlight, which will also try to image ice-filled polar craters.    

The planet Mercury is not visible in September, at inferior conjunction between us and the Sun on the 23rd

Venus is still brilliant in the morning sky, rising at 5.30 a.m., but before long it will disappear in the morning twilight.

Mars is in Taurus, and rises about 11 p.m., 9 p.m. by the end of September.  The Moon is nearby on September 16th, when both will be to the east  (left)  of the Hyades cluster in Taurus.  After 29 flights rather than the expected five, the Ingenuity helicopter was temporarily been grounded due to buildup of dust in the atmosphere, but has already made a short 30th flight and will make increasingly long ones to catch up with its parent rover Perseverance, which continues to deposit samples for eventual return to Earth.  The British ‘Fetch’ rover which was to collect them has been cancelled, but it’s hoped that Ingenuity and a second helicopter can accomplish the deliveries to the return vehicle in due course.

There’s good news of the Lucy spaceprobe, launched in 2021 to survey ‘Trojan’ asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter.  One of Lucy’s two huge solar panels had failed to open fully, and although it’s still not locked in place, it has achieved 357 degrees of the intended 360, and is firm enough to withstand the rocket manoeuvres later in the mission.  Meanwhile, two of the destination asteroids – Eurybates and now Polymele – have been found to have small satellites.  Lucy will reach Polymele in five years’ time, visiting five other asteroids on its 12-year mission.

Jupiter in Pisces comes to opposition on September 26th, at its closest to us and due south at midnight (GMT), visible all night.  On the night of 25th/26th September, the night before opposition, Jupiter’s innermost large moon Io will be directly between the Earth, Jupiter and the Sun, occulting its own shadow on the face of the planet.  It will happen again on October 2nd, when the viewpoint will be different and Io will approach the shadow from the right instead of the left.  Jupiter is near the Moon on September 11th.

Saturn in Capricornus sets at 3.30 a.m. in September.  The Moon is near Saturn on September 8th.

Uranus in Aries rises at 9 p.m. in September, occulted by the Moon on September 14th, as above.  Despite initial rejection by the European Space Agency, the possibility of a Uranus orbiter mission by 2040 has gained impetus with publication of a 10-year survey of NASA’s scientific priorities, which puts such a Uranus mission at the top of the list.  What has given it that status is new analysis of the images taken by Voyager 2 in 1989, which suggests the possibility of subsurface water in the moons of Uranus, particularly Ariel and Umbriel, one of the most mysterious objects in the Solar System.  

Neptune in Aquarius is near the Moon on the 10th, and reaches opposition on September 16th.  Neptune is currently at its furthest north in the sky since the closing days of World War 2.

From September 10th to November 20th, the extended Taurid meteor shower will be ongoing with occasional bright meteors crossing the sky.  The Taurid shower combines two meteor streams, the dust particles of the southerly ones coming from Comet Encke, the northerly ones from asteroid 2004 TG 10, both of them from a larger body which fragmented 20-30,000 years ago and further breakups around 3000 BC and 1000 AD, respectively.

Duncan Lunan’s most recent books, From the Moon to the Stars and The Other Side of the Interface, were published by Other Side Books in 2019 and 2021, and are available through Amazon or through bookshops, or from the publishers.  For details and for his other books see Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.

To download the September star map click on this link:

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