September provides a feast for the eyes

Helix Nebula by Steve Mohr
The Helix Nebula, also known as NGC 7293, is a planetary nebula located in the constellation Aquarius. At 650 light-years away, this is one of our closest bright planetary nebulae. Photo by MPAS member Steven Mohr.

Be sure to enjoy the rich regions of Scorpius and Ophiuchus this month before they sink below the western horizon. Just above them lies an area around the heart of the Milky Way that’s brimming with star clusters and bright nebulae. In contrast, the eastern half of the sky is relatively empty, although you can still find several constellations, including Pisces, the Fishes; Cetus, the Whale; and Eridanus, the River.

Lying in the constellation Tucana, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) can be found close to the beautiful globular cluster 47 Tucanae, also known as NGC 104, which is a must-see target in the September southern skies. It is visible to the naked eye as a hazy star, while a small telescope shows its bright centre and many of its glittering stars. This cluster is 15,000 light-years away. Other visible targets include the globular clusters M22 in Sagittarius, NGC 6397 in Ara, and M4 in Scorpius. The open clusters M6 and M7 in Scorpius are also visible.

There are a few interesting targets at the moment in Aquarius. The globular cluster M2 appears as a fuzzy star through binoculars and is near the star Beta Aquarii. And the planetary nebula NGC 7293, the Helix Nebula, appears as a faint fuzzy disc through a small telescope. Another globular cluster, M15 in Pegasus, is thought to be 13.2 billion years old and can be picked out with binoculars, while a small telescope shows it clearly.

On September 9, Mercury and the crescent moon will be close together in the evening sky. On September 10, the crescent moon and Venus nearby form a triangle with the bright star Spica. Then on September 17 the waxing moon is near Saturn, and the next night is near Jupiter. On September 23 the Earth is at Equinox, which is when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the September 2021 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.