The Stars: September

Devourer of asteroids, swallower of comets: Jupiter is a world to be reckoned with. It's the giant of our Solar System: a planet that could contain 1,300 Earths.

And there's no mistaking it in the sky at the moment, because it lies at "opposition" on 21 September – opposite the Sun in the sky, and closest to the Earth. At almost 600m kilometres away, "close" is relative. But Jupiter is vast (more than 140,000km across), and made almost entirely of hydrogen gas, so it reflects sunlight well. This month, it lords it over all the stars in the sky, and is on show all night.

You need a small telescope to get the best out of our mighty neighbour. But a good pair of binoculars, well-supported, will reveal its four brightest moons, and most mysterious of the four is Europa. Its brilliant-white, icy surface may cover a deep, moon-encompassing ocean, which – due to pummelling by Jupiter's gravity – could be warm enough to support aquatic life. And these large moons are just the tip of the iceberg: at the time of writing, the giant planet has 63 moons in orbit. Through a telescope, the king of the planets looks like a cross between a tangerine and a humbug. Despite its enormous girth, Jupiter's spin is the fastest in the Solar System – its "day" lasts only 9 hours 55 minutes – which flattens the poles and causes the equator to bulge. The same dizzy rotation draws Jupiter's clouds out into streaks of ammonia and methane. Driven by the planet's vast reserves of internal energy, these cloud systems are stormy and continually changing. Jupiter is not a planet you would want to get up close and personal with: even space probes need special shielding from its powerful magnetic field and lethal radiation belts.

What's Up

King of the night is most definitely Jupiter, blazing in the south. If you're feeling adventurous use Jupiter as a guide to the more distant Uranus. During the week of 15 to 22 September, find Jupiter in your binoculars or telescope, then move them slightly upwards. The first reasonably bright "star" you'll come across is Uranus – it's about the same brightness as Jupiter's main moons.

Above Jupiter lies the large faint square of stars that depicts Pegasus, the flying horse. To the right, the Summer Triangle is marked by three much brighter stars, Vega, Deneb and Altair.

Brilliant Venus shines low down in the evening twilight, in the south-west, at the start of September, but it's now slipping down towards the Sun. The thin crescent Moon pairs up with the Evening Star on 11 September. The second half of the month sees Mercury appearing in the morning sky. You'll spot the innermost planet low in the east around 5.30am. The fainter star above it is Regulus, marking the heart of Leo (the lion).

Diary

1: 6.22 pm Moon at Last Quarter

8: 11.30 am New Moon

15: 6.50 am Moon at First Quarter

19: Mercury at greatest elongation west

21: Jupiter at opposition

23: 4.09 am Autumn Equinox; 10.17 am Full Moon

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried