Sep 12

Sky Report: September 13 – 19

The North Celestial Pole traces a huge 26,000-year circle in the sky.

Beginning with planets, the first to appear as darkness falls is Venus, in the southwest. At the moment of sunset it’s 18° above the horizon, as seen from Kanab, and you can spot it with binoculars. An hour later it’s only 7° high and you may need to peer between buildings or trees to see it.

Little Mercury is to the lower right of Venus. Although it’s at its greatest angular separation from the sun (27°) on the 13th, it’s even lower and too faint to see it easily as explained in the Sky Report two weeks ago.

But do look at Jupiter and Saturn, especially if you have a telescope – or access to one. Jupiter is the brightest object in the southeast and Saturn is 17° straight to its right (remember that your fist held at arm’s length spans 10°). Tripod-mounted (or image-stabilized) binoculars with at least 10 times magnification will show Jupiter’s four large moons but probably not Saturn’s largest moon Titan; the rings require a minimum of 30 power. The moon passes them this week, standing directly below Saturn on the 16th and below Jupiter on the 17th.

The bright star that is virtually overhead once the sky is dark is Vega, in the small constellation Lyra, the lyre – a type of primitive harp popular in ancient Greece. Vega is 26 light years distant which makes it one of the nearer bright stars. It’s 50 times as bright as our sun; if you placed our sun next to Vega it would be barely visible to the naked eye.

Vega is the topmost of three equally-bright stars that form the popular Summer Triangle. The other two are Deneb, to the lower left of Vega, and Altair, considerably lower and to the right, halfway to Saturn. They are in the Swan and Eagle respectively.

The gravitational attraction of the moon and sun cause the spinning earth to wobble, or precess, like a toy top that is slowing down before it falls over. It takes the earth 26,000 years to complete one wobble, and during that time the earth’s axis, which points to the sky’s north pole, makes a huge circle in the sky. Today the axis points to Polaris, our current North Star, but in 12,000 years it will point near Vega and Vega will be our North Star. Google “precession of the equinoxes”.

Under a grant from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Kane County Office of Tourism, Stellar Vista Observatory offers portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to all residents of Kane County. Nothing beats a quality binocular or astronomical telescope to enhance enjoyment of the night sky! Visit or Kanab City Library for full details.

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at Send questions and comments to

About the Author:

John Mosley was Program Supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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