In The Sky This Month – September 2009

This feature highlights a number of meteor showers, comets and asteroids which are visible during the month of September 2009. Jupiter continues its reign as not only king of the planets but king of the evening sky.

Note: If anyone has pictures or observations of these objects/events and want to share them, send me a comment and I’ll post them on the blog.


Jupiter -Jupiter continues to dominate the evening sky. Based on the comments left on this blog, many people have been noticing Jupiter in the southeast sky during the evening. At magnitude -2.8, Jupiter is ~13 times brighter than the brightest stars in the sky this month. Of all the planets, only Venus, and on very rare occasions Mars, are brighter.

Jupiter is already located high enough in the southest sky by the end of dusk for easy observation. Due to Jupiter’s location in the southern constellation of Capricornus , it never gets very high above the southern horizon this year.

Aug 2 – Nearly Full Moon passes within 3° of Jupiter and Neptune
Aug 29
– Moon within 3° of Jupiter

Chart of the sky during the middle of September showing the position of Jupiter. Chart created with Stellarium (

Neptune – For those with a telescope or binoculars and a dark sky, Neptune is located within 1/2 to 3/4 degrees of Jupiter. Jupiter will be a bright magnitude -2.8 while Neptune will be a faint +7.8. That makes Jupiter over ~17,000 times brighter than Neptune. Even Jupiter’s 4 large Galilean moons are about a dozen times brighter than Neptune even though they are much smaller. The big reason for the faintness of Neptune is its distance from both the Earth and Sun. It is roughly 6 times further away from us and the Sun as Jupiter. The distance also explains its apparent small size of 2.3″. A good sized telescope will be required to see Neptune as anything other than a faint star.

Though Neptune wasn’t discovered until 1846, it was actually observed by Galileo on two occasions in 1612 and 1613. Similar to this month’s circumstances, Jupiter was passing very close to Neptune. Galileo observed and recorded Neptune as a star in the vicinity of Jupiter. There is also evidence that he noticed that Neptune had moved but didn’t follow up on it. So when you observe these 2 planets imagine what Galileo must have been thinking nearly 400 years ago.

Uranus – This month Uranus is at opposition which means it is at its closest to Earth and at its brightest. Uranus is located in western Pisces and is bright enough to be seen in small binoculars at magnitude +5.7 but will still require a telescope in order to see it as anything other than a star (it’s disk is only 3.5″ across).

Sept 17 – Uranus at opposition

Mars – Mars can be seen in the eastern sky during the 2nd half of the might. It rises around midnight though it won’t get high enough to clear most trees and building till about 1-2 am. At magnitude +0.9, its brightness matches those of many of the brightest stars visible in the morning sky. This month Mars marches through the constellation of Gemini. Mars will continue to brighten as it approaches its opposition on Jan 29 of next year.

Sept 13 – Moon within 1.1° of Mars

Chart of the sky on the morning of Sept 16. Chart created with Stellarium (

Venus – Venus is the brightest “star” in the sky a hour or so before dawn. It was at its highest in the morning sky last month but now begins its slow crawl lower though it will remain an easy object for early risers  over the next 2-3 months. For binocular and telescope users, Venus will appear nearly full and is much smaller than it appeared this spring (now 12″ across versus 50″ last spring).

Sept 16 – Moon passes 3° from Venus
Sept 20
– Venus within 0.5° of the 1st mag star Regulus

The Venus-Moon conjunction on the morning of Sept 16. Chart created with Stellarium (

Mercury – For northern observers, Mercury is not visible until the last days of September when it can be seen as a 1st magnitude star rising in the east just before the Sun.

Sept 20 – Mercury at inferior conjunction (located between the Sun and Earth)

Saturn – Saturn is not visible this month as it is located on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. As a result, it is located too close to the Sun in the sky to be easily observed. This is a shame because on September 4th, Saturn’s rings will be edge-on and would appear as a very thin line or even disappear in telescopes.

Sept 17 – Saturn at conjunction (located on the side of the Sun opposite Earth)


September does not have many good showers though the background rate of meteors is near an annual high. The year is usually split in 2 with January through June having low rates with few major showers while July through December (really through the 1st week of January) have high rates with many major showers.

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, 12 or so Sporadic meteors can be observed per hour from a dark moonless sky.

Major Meteor Showers

None this month.

Minor Meteor Showers

Minor showers produce so few meteors that they are hard to notice above the background of regular meteors.

Aurigids (Max Date = Sept 1, Max ZHR = ~3 per hour)

The Aurigids are active from Aug 25 to Sept 8 with a peak on Sept 1. The shower is created by Comet Kiess, a comet only observed in 1911 though it should be back in ~70 years. The Aurigid shower is a minor one with a peak rate of 5 meteors per hour for observers under very dark skies.

This shower does have a history of producing short but spectacular outbursts. Reported outbursts in 1935, 1986 and 1994 allowed scientists to predict an outburst in 2007. The prediction was so good that the peak time was accurate to ~10 minutes. I was lucky enough to have observed this shower that only lasted for ~1 hour. At its maximum it produced a maximum ZHR of ~130 meteors per hour. Unfortunately no outbursts are predicted over the next 25 years, but you never know…

The shower appears to radiate from a position just to the east of the body of the constellation of Auriga. This shower is sometimes called the Alpha Aurigids.

September Perseids (Max Date = Sept 9, Max Rate = ~5 per hour)

The September Perseids are not related to the great Perseids of August. The showers were created by separate comets. This shower showed little sign of unusual activity until enhanced activity was observed on the night of Sept 9, 2008. That surprise display was also the topic of the very first Transient Sky post.

I have not seen any published research into last year’s high activity so its possible this years may see a repeat. Unfortunately, the moon will be bright and will drown out many fainter meteors.

Delta Aurigids (Max Date = Sept 28, Max Rate = ~3 per hour)

This weak shower appears the overlap the Sept Perseids and for some time they were considered part of the same shower. We now know that the showers come from different (though unknown) comets. The Delta Aurigids radiate from a point north of the body of Auriga and the bright star Capella.


Naked Eye Comets (V < 6.0)


Binocular Comets (V = 6.0 – 8.0)


Small Telescope Comets (V = 8.0 – 10.0)

Comet C/2006 W3 (Christensen)

This comet was discovered over 2 years ago on 2006 November 18 by Eric Christensen of the Catalina Sky Survey north of Tucson. At the time the comet was located at 8.7 AU from the Sun which is nearly the distance of Saturn. The comet continues to move closer to the Sun and Earth and is currently 3.8 AU from the Sun and 3.4 AU from the Earth.

The comet is currently around magnitude 8.2 and should be at its brightest this month.  It is moving southeast while paralleling the summer Milky Way. This month the comet will cross the constellation of Aquilia. The is well placed for evening observing.

The comet reached perihelion at a rather distant 3.12 AU from the Sun on 2009 July 6. Because of its large perihelion distance, the comet will only slowly move away from the Sun and though it will slowly fade from here on out it should remain bright enough to be seen in modest sized backyard telescopes for all of 2009.

A finder chart for Comet Christensen can be found at Comet Chasing and Aktuelle Kometen (in German).

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


All of the above comets are long-period comets which will not return to the inner Solar System for thousands to millions of years. Comet Kopff is a frequent visitor with an orbital period of 6.4 years. Discovered on 1906 August 20 by August Kopff of Germany, the comet has been observed during every subsequent return except one.

The comet reached perihelion at 1.58 AU from the Sun on May 25. Though now moving away from the Sun, the comet still moving closer to Earth and will be located 0.78 AU from us at the end of the month. Recent observations place the comet at magnitude 9.5  to 10.5. It is now slowly fading. The comet spends September in Aquarius.

A finder chart for Comet Kopff 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 (V < 9.5)

(3) Juno

Juno was the 3rd asteroid to be discovered after (1) Ceres and (2) Pallas. It was found by German astronomer Karl Harding on September 1, 1804. With dimensions of 320×267×200 km (192 x 160 x 120 miles) Juno ranks as the 10th largest asteroid in the Main Belt though it is the 2nd largest stony S-type asteroid.

This month it will be moving slowly eastward through Pisces. Peak brightness will come at opposition on Sept. 22 when Juno will be as bright as magnitude 7.6. A few degrees to the eats of Juno is another bright asteroid, (18) Melpomene which is described in its own section.

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

(18) Melpomene

Just a few degrees to the east of (3) Juno lies another nice asteroid target for small telescopes. (18) Melpomene is also located in the constellation of Pisces and is only a little bit fainter than Juno, brightening from magnitude  8.7 to 8.0 in September.

Melpomene is another stoney S-type asteroid and similar to Iris was also discovered by John Russel Hind. Found in 1852, it is his 5th of 10 asteroid discoveries.

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


  1. Hey, I noticed some unusual meteor activity last night, but wrote it off as a few stray meteors that I happened to catch, since I couldn’t find much about meteor showers at this time of year. One was VERY bright – easily magnitude -2 or -3, and I saw several more in the magnitude 2 and 3 range, plus about a half dozen more that I suspected, but didn’t see directly. I think there might be something to that September Perseid thing.

  2. Last night , Sept 8, 2009, I believe time was between 9:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m Saw a very bright fireball in eastern sky……live in mountains east of Fresno, CA did anyone else see it and what was it called

  3. My 11 year old daughter saw it too from her window around the same time while she was trying to fall asleep. She ran to my room to ask what it could have been and all I could say was that maybe a star….she wasn’t convinced. We live in San Jose, CA. Could it have been the same thing you saw, Paula in Fresno, CA? We’re not too far from eachother. Does anyone know what that was?

  4. We observed what we believed to be a comet in the northern sky at about 9:45 last evening. We are located in Ontario north of Toronto. There was a clearly visible tail that faded as the point of light moved across the sky. It was in view for about 15 to 20 seconds before it disappeared. Could this have been a comet??


    1. You know when i was a kid I saw one like that from the back of my house here in vancouver, bc, really bright flourescent green and coming almost straight down to earth with kind of halloween sparklery sparks coming off of it and it was round too. It looked lie it was close but it was so unusual it was hard to tell how far away it was.

    2. Leanne,
      On Sept. 6, 2009 @ about 3AM ish, I saw a neon green ball falling straight down with a yellowish, fading to white tail south of me (DeLand, FL). I can’t find anything on pc about it. I keep forgetting to call the science centers about it. Don’t know if it would be a comet or meteor, or astroids or what

  6. My sister-in-law and I were sitting on a dock in a remote part of the French River and observed what looked like a bright star but had a large pale blue plume in the shape of a backward letter J behind it.
    It moved from south to north fairly about the speed of the ISS. Right behind this was a moving object which I thought was the ISS, but have no idea of what the first object was. It was visible for about 2mins and then faded out. The time I am guessing was between 9 and 10:30 pm on Sept. 9th, 2009. Did anyone elase see this, I have tried to find out about it on the internet but can not find anything.

    1. I live in Southern Ontario just north of London. My friend and I saw the same thing on September 9th, between 9:30 and 10:00 pm. We were walking our dogs in the field.
      There was one moving light with a j shaped tail and another one beside it.. which looked like a red light.
      We watched it move as it darted across the north part of the sky and then disapeared.

    2. My neighbour just heard on the news, Lloyd Robertson said there were lots of reports in Ontario which described what we saw, which was in fact the space shuttle emptying waste!

  7. I am in eastern Ireland at the moment and am looking south at Jupiter with binoculars. Very close to its left I see a disc shaped blob of white. Would it be a comet?

  8. We are in the Pacific Northwest – just a few miles south of the Canadian Border. This evening at about 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time (just getting dark), we saw a very slow-moving sporadic meteor cross the western sky – it was amazing! It was visible for so long that our friends had time to turn around and see it, too!

  9. We are in Vancouver and saw the same sporadic meteor, it was so beautiful! i’ve never seen anything like it!

  10. Myself and three others were sitting on the outside porch in North Burnaby when we a slow moving object moving west. It was moving so slow and close that we all had a chance to turn around and look up to witness it. This was about 8:00 – 8:15p.m. It was the so crazy!! A few of us freaked out and wondered what it was! A couple of us ran across the street thinking it landed a couple of kms away. Great to know others witnessed it too…

  11. I forgot to add description….
    It was a large white ball with a long red tail…
    let me know if u saw the same thing!

  12. We saw the bright white ball too and we also live in North Burnaby. It was crazy! Are you sure it was a meteor tho?

    1. Yes a few saw this to Re from Maple Ridge it was amazing how long the streak lasted for enough time for others to stand up and turn around to view the meteor???? or UFO

  13. I’m in Abbotsford and I saw the meteor last night too around 8 pm. It was very bright and “moving slow”. It had a tail and I saw it had two distinct lobes. It burned up after too long. It was moving east to west probably ending up somewhere in the paciific ocean.

    1. I was at a garden party in Victoria BC. There were about 30 of us and we all got to see this meteor. It travelled slowly enough for us all to look at it with amazement. It was a bright white ball with a firey tail heading west. It lasted for quite a few seconds before the house obscured our view. Amazing!!!!

  14. My wife and were on the back yard on Lake Washington, we both saw the meteor at around 8pm. We both thought it was a jet on fire at first, slow moving. I then realized it was a meteor, slow at first, then becoming very bright for the ambient sky, no stars yet but this was very bright magnitude. East to west trajectory with a sudden end to the fireball, almost like a bounce off the atmosphere. Very cool, haven’t seen that in quite a few years. I remember seeing a similar event in the late 1960’s, I was in Seattle, thought it landed in our pasture and learned that it did become a meteorite landing in Texas.

    1. I live in Snoqualmie and I too saw what you’ve described at 8:09pm that night. It was the brightest ‘meteor’ I’ve ever seen!

  15. On September 12, 2009 my wife and I were watching the sunset over the Puget Sound with two friends in Mukilteo, WA and saw what looked to be a slow moving westbound satelite, meteor, or UFO hit the atmosphere and break into a large and a small piece. It was a very bright event as there was still plenty of light in the sky.

    It looks like the consensus here is that it was a meteor, but the Perseid shower was August 11th and 12th and this thing certainly was big enough that it should have been predicted by an astromoner. What did we see? Has positive identification been made by an expert?

  16. Hi everyone, I was attending an out-doors birthday party sept 12 09 north east Haney BC, and a group of us saw the streak of flame in the south west sky. Wow, it looked very close. At the same time a friend and I were discussing my ufo experiences. I also saw camera like flashes in the sky throughout the evening.

  17. On Sept. 12th approx. 8:00 PM Myself, the Wife and some friends were sitting on our deck in Birch Bay, WA and watched this amazing white light fly directly above our house heading West. It was flashing brightly and appeared to be relatively low in altitude ? but not sure it happened so quickly

  18. OMG!! so it was really something!!
    my friends and I were at Milestone parking lot in North Burnaby and we saw a very bright yellow circle -comparable to the ones in house lighting in the adjescent condos- moving down in a slow speed, but it was definately faster than any kinds of plane I saw. The view was blocked by the condo and we were expecting to see it on the otherside but it never appeared again! I sooo regret that I didn’t have a video camera in handy! The time was approx in between 8:00 to 8:30 pm. Did anyone recorded or took a picture of this view??
    I have never been so curious in my entire life. I want to know what it really was.

  19. My husband and I saw one on Sept 12th also. We were not sure if it was a meteor because it was so slow and seemed to change just at the end. We also saw a smaller “piece” seem to fall of and go below it till they both disappeared. It was strange to us because it was at 8:02 pm and the sky was not even dark yet. We were just north of Vancouver, WA. It was an amazing sight!

  20. I saw a bright flying object traveling west to east on the 14th of september at 9.00pm – 9.05pm what was it does anyone know? it was a very bright light moving quite fast and then fading out.

  21. Saturday September 12, 2009
    Between 8:00/ 8:30 pm.
    Port Alberni, BC.

    We were attending the Port Alberni fall fair, I heard a pecular sound and looked over head, the see a large bright object, like a comet with a tail, zipping across the sky from the east heading west, then bursting into 2 or 3 pieces and fizzled out.
    It didn’t seem that high up either, not as high as a jet plane, but higher than a small craft. And it wasn’t instant like a shooting star, it was slow enough that a few of us in the immediate area, witnessed it.
    Space debris, comet, who knows, but it was magnificant to see.

  22. I saw something last night Sept 19th 2009, it was a bright light that seemed to be directing a light down into a fog or cloud of sorts… Halifax, Ma. Never seen anything like it before. Anyone else?

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the report. What you saw was seen all over eastern New England.

      It was a cloud experiment launched from NASA’s launch facility at Wallops Island in Virginia.

      More on the launch can be found at CNN and at NASA.

      – Carl

    2. I saw the same thing! I was camping with friends in Gettysburg, PA on Sept. 19, 2009 when I looked up into a cloudless sky and saw what I thought was a bright white light beaming through a cloud. As we watched it, the light was at the top and a fading cone below it. We all concluded it was a meteor, but were all stunned on how huge it appeared in the sky. From the time I saw it until complete fade out was a good 10 seconds.

  23. This past Saturday night here in my NYC terrace (Sept. 19th/Sunday Sept. 20th) a little pass midnight I saw that same green ball people were, I think, referring to in the previous posts. I used to live in Hawaii, were light pollution is minimal, and used to average 5 shooting stars per night, amazing, but never seen something so bright and green, almost like the falling sparks of a firework, but this time it was really high up and too fast to be a fire work. I almost thought it was a missile and went “oh f***!! not now”, but it disappeared in the horizon. I was really perplexed by the origin of this misterious ball. any thoughts?

  24. On Saturday evening i saw whatr i believe to be a comet outside Hershey Pa. It was about 11 P.M. It was a very bright star when i looked throught my binoculars it appeared to have a tail – it was moving very slowly. Ten minutes later i was able to show my husband the same thing he also saw the tail through binoculars. Any Info on this?

  25. On Spetember 19th 2009, at approx. 2100 hrs in Trenton,NJ. I saw what i believed was a comet. It was a very bright star with a cone like beam of light heading down toward earth. Most definitely the coolest thing I ever seen.

  26. I live in Northport Florida at 7pm I left work and looked to the west where the sun was behind somw rain clouds that were low the sky was blue and pink and purple and white beautiful I thought then I turned to the east and saw a ray of pink in the blue sky ….. I thought that some car dealer ship must be running a special with a spot light. It was however pink but I thought it was because it was still daylight….. I then preceeded to drive out of the parking lot and noticed the ray of pink light was now three rays as if the sun was setting off rays but the sun was in the west not the east…… Can anyone explain this to me how can I see sun rays on the opposite horrzion, I am very interested in the answer. The rays turned in to 5 and were a bit more slanted as they fadded away…..

  27. I was driving just outside of London Ontario Canada, on hwy 2 eastbound, when the sky started to light up a pinky red. Even the trees were lit up. This light lasted for about 6 or 7 seconds. Then a ball of flame that broke up at the end in the SE sky. It was the wildest thing I have ever seen.


    1. My fiance and I were driving toward’s Dundas, Ontario around the exact same time. It was completely dark outside, when all of a sudden we both saw the entire sky flash bright blue!! It lasted a couple of seconds and disappeared. We both knew it wasn’t lightening, as it was nothing like lightening. When we got to our destination, some friends of ours showed up saying that they just came from downtown Hamilton, and both saw a big blue comet streak across the sky, and said it was very eerie.!!! I have been trying to google any info. about what happened, but am unable to find antyhing?

    2. We live in Uxbridge, and saw it too. It was almost like a roman candle, but apparently there are people in Toronto that saw it too!

  28. Last night (Sept 25, 2009), my husband and I were standing outside of our home in Ajax Ontario just a little after 9pm. We were facing west when a blue fireball streaked down from the sky. It was large at first, but quickly broke down, flickered, then died. It lasted approx. 4-5 seconds.

  29. Last night in Port Sanilac Michigan just after 9 I was driving east towards Lake Huron, when a green light appeared high in the sky,dropping straight down, with orange sparks(tail( coming out of it, about 5 secinds long, it was OUTSTANDING to see!

  30. LISA, When I checked to see where Ajax is located , I seen you were on the same latitude as me, but I am in Michigan,so we may have seen the same meteor

  31. I don’t know what it was, but my brother and I were staring at the sky one night (I believe it was the 21st) and a bright white light flashed in the sky. It looked like it exploded because it sent a wave of light so I started looking up supernovae but nothing came up that was anything like that. If anyone would like to inform me on what that could have been it would be much appreciated.

  32. Hello, everyone!
    My name is Musawir, and i live in Pakistan, my question is that, i saw some red light up into the sky and it became small in every second, (so i think it was moving away from the earth), then i took my telescope and saw it and observe that it was circle in shape, can you tell me what that was?

    1. Hi Musawir,

      Thanks for writing.

      What time of the night were you observing? What you were seeing depends on the time.

      – Carl

  33. hi I live on long island and happened to be looking south east out my window on at 1:57 am the morning of the 15th of december and saw a BRIGHT green ball of light fall from the sky.. does any one have any ideas on what I may have seen or did any one else spot this?

  34. I just wanted to know if anyone had knowledge of where the moon would have been positioned in the sky on Sept. 02, 2009 at 10:30pm in California . I need north , south, east or west. Thanks

  35. Last year in sept. we were celerbrating our 40 wedding anniversary camping along the river near Kimberly, Oregon. It was about 9:15 to 10 pm and we saw the brightest ball of fire with a long tail. As you can tell I know nothing about what I saw but with some research I found this page which tells me others saw the samething. Thanks for the work and information. CJ

  36. sep. 24th 2010 it was about 10:30pm when i was just look up at the sky ang it look like a falling ball of fire.. it was werid. what can it be

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