In The Sky This Month – Rest of September 2008

This feature highlights a number of meteor showers, comets and asteroids which are visible during the current month.


Sporadic Meteors

Sporadic meteors are not part of any known meteor shower. They represent the background flux of meteors. Except for the few days per year when a major shower is active, most meteors that are observed are sporadics. This is especially true for meteors observed during the evening. During September, ten (10) or so Sporadic meteors can be observed per hour from a dark moonless sky.

Major Meteor Showers

There are no major meteor showers visible during the month of September.

Minor Meteor Showers

Minor showers produce so few meteors that they are barely noticable above the background of regular meteors.

September Perseids (SPE)

The September Perseids which experienced a surprise outburst of activity on Sept 9 are winding down. By Sept 17 they should no longer be active.

Delta Aurigids (DAU)

Until a few years ago, the September Perseids and the Delta Aurigids were considered part of the same shower. Analysis of the orbits of their meteors suggested that there are in fact two overlapping showers each originating from a different unknown long-period comet. Like the SPEs, this minor shower usually produces no more than ~3 meteors per hour at its maximum. There is some disagreement as to when this shower is active. Naked eye observations over the past few decades suggest a period of activity from Sept 18 through Oct 10 with a broad peak between Sept 23 and Oct 3. Recent video data finds a later period of activity between Oct 6 and 12 with no obvious peak. The DAUs radiate from the northern part of the constellation of Auriga just to the north of the bright star Capella.

Additional information on these showers and other minor showers not included here can be found at the following sites: Robert Lunsford’s Meteor Activity Outlook, Wayne Hally’s and Mark Davis’s NAMN Notes, and the International Meteor Organization’s 2008 Meteor Shower Calendar.


Naked Eye Comets

There are no comets bright enough to be seen without binoculars or a telescope.

Binocular Comets

Comet C/2008 A1 (McNaught)

Comet McNaught is a long-period comet that will pass closest to the Sun on Sept 29 at a distance of 1.07 AU (100 million miles or 160 million km). It was the first comet discovered in 2008 having been found by  Robert McNaught of the Siding Spring Survey back on Jan 10. It was McNaught’s 43rd comet discovery.

Currently the comet can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. Next month the comet will be visible for observers in the Northern Hemisphere as an early evening object. As of Sept 16, the comet is located in the constellation of Centaurus. By months end it will clip the southeast corner of Hydra and enter Libra. The comet is as bright as it is going to get at magnitude 6.5. A comet of this brightness can be seen in binoculars or a small telescope.

A finder chart for Comet McNaught can be found at Comet Chasing.

Small Telescope Comets

Comet 6P/d’Arrest

Comet d’Arrest was one of the first short-period comets to be observed. First seen by the Frenchman Philippe de la Hire in 1678, the comet was definitively discovered by Heinrich Louis d’Arrest of Germany on 1851 June 28.

Comet d’Arrest is in a short-period orbit with a period of 6.5 years. It passed closest to the Sun back on Aug 14 at a distance of 1.35 AU (125 million miles or 200 million km). Currently located in the southern constellation of Grus, the comet is a very difficult object for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. With a brightness of magnitude 8.5 it will require a telescope to be seen though observers at very dark sites may be able to see it in binoculars.

A finder chart for Comet d’Arrest can be found at Comet Chasing.

A nice collection of images can be found at the VdS-Fachgruppe Kometen (Comet Section of Germany) and Seiichi Yoshida’s Comet Homepage.


Binocular and Small Telescope Asteroids

(1) Ceres

Ceres is the biggest asteroid in the Main Belt with a diameter of 585 miles or 975 km. It is so big that it is now considered a Dwarf Planet. Classified as a carbonaceous (carbon-rich) Cg-type asteroid, there are suggestions that it may be rich in volatile material such as water. Some even propose that an ocean exists below the surface. Ceres is one of two targets for NASA’s Dawn spacecraft which is scheduled to visit it in 2015. This month Ceres is located in Cancer at magnitude 8.8.

A finder chart (needs to be flipped upside down for Northern Hemisphere observers) can be found at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand.

(2) Pallas

Pallas is also a carbonaceous asteroid though with a slightly bluish B-type spectrum. Due to its high inclination (tilt of its orbit with respect to Earth’s orbit) of 34 degrees it is a difficult target for future spacecraft missions. Pallas is large with dimensions of 350x334x301 miles or 582x556x501 km. This month it is located in the southern constellation of Lepus at magnitude 8.7-8.8.

A finder chart (needs to be flipped upside down for Northern Hemisphere observers) can be found at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand.

(4) Vesta

Though not as large as Ceres, Vesta is more reflective making it the brightest asteroid in the Main Belt. Vesta is peculiar in that it appears to have evidence of volcanism on its surface. Similar to the Moon, Vesta may be covered with large expanses of frozen lava flows. It is classified as a V-type asteroid and is the only large asteroid with this classification. Many of the smaller V-type asteroids are chips of Vesta blasted off it by past asteroid and comet impacts. Vesta is similar in size to Pallas with dimensions of 347x336x275 miles or 578×560×458 km. Vesta will also be visited by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft which will arrive in 2010. This month it is located in Cetus at magnitude 7.0.

A finder chart (needs to be flipped upside down for Northern Hemisphere observers) can be found at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand.