View the red star Antares near the red planet Mars, plus the Zodiacal Light that points towards Jupiter in the morning sky.
What’s up for September. Red star meets red planet, and the Zodiacal Light points towards Jupiter.
Hello and welcome. I’m Jane Houston Jones from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
As Mars moves toward its encounter with Comet Siding Spring next month, the red planet passes several bright stars. On September 12, Mars is halfway between Saturn and Antares, On September 12, Mars is halfway between Saturn and Antares, Compare the red hues of Mars and Antares with your own eyes! By September 27, the two appear about 3 degrees apart low in the southwest sky after sunset. Like last month, the moon skips through the sky, appearing to the lower right of Saturn on the 27th, between Mars and Saturn on the 28th, and above Mars on September 29th, forming a straight line with Antares.
Meanwhile, in the morning sky, Jupiter rises higher. Use the moon to find it on the morning of September 20th.
You can also use Jupiter to look for a huge pyramid of light appearing one to two hours before sunrise. The pyramid, called the Zodiacal Light, is sometimes confused with the Milky Way and sometimes called the false dawn. It can even look like faint city lights if you are driving east before sunrise. The Zodiacal Light is best seen from mid-September to early October. It’s the reflection of sunlight off cosmic dust particles, the debris from comet and asteroid collisions in our solar system. Some of these dust particles enter Earth’s atmosphere as sporadic or random meteors. But most of the dust particles producing the Zodiacal Light settle into a lens- or pancake-shaped tapering cone of light fattest near the sun and extending all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit. Most of the material is located near the plane of the solar system, the ecliptic: the flat disk where the planets orbit. The Zodiacal Light is seen along the narrow pathway of this flat plane. When you look at the eastern horizon before dawn in autumn, the ecliptic is nearly vertical in the sky.
You can learn about how NASA studies interstellar and solar system dust particles and all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov.
That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.