Backyard Observatory

Close Encounters Between Planets Will Make September Great for Stargazing. See It All.

What to look for when you're taking advantage of this month's ideal stargazing weather.

night sky right now
Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

 There are a lot of important things happening in the US. Protests over unchecked systemic racism, a looming election, a pandemic that has upended life for almost seven months, and the potential destruction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to name just a few of the significant events that are ever-present in our lives. It’s reasonable to need a moment alone, a moment to recharge and experience something awe-inspiring.

Stargazing is one way to appreciate nature, relax, and metaphorically recharge your battery. September’s night skies don’t have a major meteor shower or an eclipse or headline-grabbing moment. But as long as you have clear skies, there’s never a bad time to go stargazing. This month, you’ll have great views of the planets, with conjunctions and close encounters making for beautiful interactions between celestial objects. 

Here are all of the stargazing events you should be sure to catch in September. 

stargazing september 2020
Via NASA JPL YouTube

September 5 - Mars has a close encounter with the moon

There's a lot to see between the red planet and the moon on the night of September 5. (Really, this taking place on September 6, because it'll be visible just after midnight.) Mars and the moon will have a conjunction that will put them very close together throughout the night. Look to the southwest to see Mars glowing red next to the moon. 

If you're watching from southern Europe, South America, and western Africa, you'll also have the chance to spot a lunar occultation, per In the Sky. Mars will pass behind the moon for a little while and then reappear out the other side. Unfortunately, that won't be visible in the US. 

mars moon stargazing 2020
Via NASA JPL YouTube

September 14 - Venus and the moon join forces

The morning of September 14, you're going to get a chance to get a little more Venus in your life. The moment of conjunction will happen before Venus rises, but the pair will have a close encounter late at night into the early morning. The time of rising will change some depending on your location, but Venus will rise at about 3am in New York City. And, given clear skies, you should be able to see the duo even in a place as bright as New York. Venus is the third brightest object in the sky behind the moon and sun. 

September 18 - Mercury gets high with the moon

Mercury will reach a peak of eight degrees above the horizon tonight. Though, it won't be that high for long. The little planet doesn't ever rise very high in our sky due to its position between us and the sun. However, this will be the highest point it reaches during its run of evening appearances from August through October. 

The planet's rise coincides with its conjunction with the moon. The moon will sit a little more than six degrees above Mercury, per In the Sky. The planet's low position in the sky will make it difficult to see inside of big cities. You'll need a clear view of the west-southwest horizon.

The moon won't be hanging around every night, but you've got a few nights around this conjunction where Mercury will be sitting as high in the evening sky as you're going to see. You're going to want to look right at dusk because Mercury does not stick around very long after sunset. 

September 25 - Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon get cozy

August was a great month to see Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon get together. There were conjunctions between one of the gas giants and the moon on back-to-back nights twice. It's happening again this month, except this time the conjunction between Jupiter and the moon and the conjunction between Saturn and the moon are happening on the same night. 

The moment of conjunction, per In the Sky, will be while the sun is still up. So, you'll be seeing the close approach as soon as they rise the night of September 25. The eight-day-old moon will sit just below Saturn and Jupiter in the southern sky. They'll be very close, but far enough apart you won't be able to catch them all together in a telescope. Try looking through binoculars to get a great view of the trio. 

Ready to go stargazing?

In addition to all the great celestial events above, you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.