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The annual Draconids meteor shower peaks this year during the night of October 7th / 8th. Although a feeble shower it does have a history of spectacular outbursts and for that reason it's certainly worth looking out for. The best place and time to observe is from northern locations during the evenings of October 7th and 8th. For this year's event the waxing crescent / first quarter Moon will have set by midnight and therefore won't interfere with early morning observing. However, it will somewhat interfere during early evening.
The Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of a meteor shower is the number of meteors a single observer would see in one hour under a clear dark sky if the radiant of the shower were at the zenith. Usually the ZHR of the Draconids is extremely low at only 1 or 2 meteors, even below the sporadic rate. However the shower can burst into life and on occasion's as many as 6,000 meteors per hour have been seen over short periods. When the Dragon roars it's a spectacular sight!
Mercury remains visible during the first part of the month as an early morning object from northern and tropical latitudes. The smallest planet was at its best at the end of September when it passed through greatest elongation west (GEW). As October progresses it gradually draws into the Sun until finally lost from view later in the month.
In terms of visibility, the daily diminishing altitude of Mercury is partly offset by the planet's brightening. For example from London, Mercury shines at mag. -0.8 and appears almost 8 degrees above the horizon, 45 minutes before sunrise on October 1st. Later on the 11th, it has brightened to mag. -1.1 but now only 3 degrees above the horizon. In addition, on the same day the planet passes a degree north of Jupiter. At mag. -1.7 slightly brighter Jupiter may act as a guide to locating Mercury, although both planets will be battling against the bright twilight sky. It's worth noting despite appearing close together in the sky, Jupiter is five times more distant than Mercury. Not long after that, Mercury disappears from view as it heads towards superior conjunction on October 27th.
The best Mercury morning apparition of the year for northern-based observers takes place during the last week of September and the first part of October 2016. On September 22nd, those at such latitudes may be able to spot the elusive planet low down above the eastern horizon just before sunrise. Shining at mag. +1.1, Mercury is challenging against the bright dawn twilight but binoculars will help. However, make sure that the Sun is below the horizon before looking.
NGC 6882/6885 is an open cluster in the faint constellation of Vulpecula that can just about be seen with the naked eye, is easy with binoculars and has up to 40 stars visible through telescopes. The object has somewhat of a confusing history. In September 1784, William Herschel discovered two open clusters, NGC 6882 and NGC 6885. He subsequently catalogued them but with virtually identical descriptions. Since no cluster exists that matches the location and description of NGC 6882, many astronomers believe that Herschel made a mistake and simply repeated his observation. However, the story doesn't end here. Adding to the confusion is a fainter, smaller and less rich cluster, Collinder 416, that's positioned at the northwest edge of NGC 6882/6885. Some astronomers believe this to be NGC 6882.
NGC 6882/6885 is grouped around the brightest member star, 20 Vul (mag. +5.9). Located 1.5 degrees northeast of NGC 6882/6885 is 23 Vul, which at mag. +4.5 is the second brightest star in the constellation. Positioned 9 degrees west-northwest of the cluster is the beautiful double star Albireo (mag. +2.9) in Cygnus.
NGC 4755, also known as the Jewel Box or Kappa Crucis Cluster, is one of the finest open clusters in the sky. It's located in the small southern constellation of Crux and at mag. +4.2 is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. It contains over 100 stars, mostly blue or red, spread over 10 arc minutes of apparent sky. The cluster is one of a handful of night time objects that offers something for all observers of all telescope sizes.
NGC 4755 is located 6,440 light years distant and is best seen from southern latitudes during the months of March, April and May. It's circumpolar from locations south of 30S and can also be seen from the tropics, although for many Northern Hemisphere observers it never rises above the southern horizon.
NGC 6543, mag. +8.2, also known as the Cat's Eye Nebula is a bright planetary nebula located in the northern constellation of Draco. It was discovered by William Herschel on February 15, 1786 and is one of the brightest and finest examples of its type. Some of the most spectacularly images ever taken by the Hubble Space Telescope have been of NGC 6543. They display a wealth of exquisite details across a large complex eye-like structure.
In total, the extended halo of the nebula spans some 6.5 arc minutes of apparent sky. However, through amateur scopes only the small inner section is visible (approx. 20 arc seconds) and therefore it appears tiny and considerably smaller in apparent size than for example, Jupiter. However, the advantage of a compact centre is a high surface brightness and NGC 6543 can be spotted with binoculars and is easily visible through small scopes.
Saturn, mag. +0.5, is currently an evening object in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The planet famous for its spectacular ring system is visible towards the south-southwest from northern latitudes or towards the northwest from southern latitudes as soon as it's dark enough. Currently in the same region of sky is Mars (mag. -0.2) and red supergiant star Antares (α Sco - mag. +1.0). In addition on September 8th and 9th, the Moon passes just north of the the planets.
Although now past their best for the year, Mars and Saturn both remain prominent early evening objects during September. After sunset from mid-northern latitudes the planets can be seen for a few hours above the south-southwest horizon before setting. From further south the visibility is much better. For example from Sydney, Mars and Saturn appear high in the northern sky at sunset, remaining visible until around midnight.
On September 8th, the waxing crescent Moon will be about 4 degrees north of Saturn. The following day the Moon, now first quarter, passes 8 degrees north of Mars. Both days offer nice opportunities to spot the Moon, the two planets and also first magnitude red supergiant star Antares (α Sco) together in the early evening sky.
The images below show the view during the evenings of September 8th and 9th from New York. Mars shines at mag. -0.2, Saturn +0.5 and Antares +1.0. From other mid-latitude northern locations the scene will look similar.
IC 342 is an 8th magnitude face-on intermediate spiral galaxy that's located in the faint northern constellation of Camelopardalis. Since positioned only 10 degrees from the galactic equator it's obscured heavily by Milky Way dust. As a result, the galaxy wasn't even discovered until famed British amateur astronomer William Frederick Denning found it in 1895. At the time it was originally thought to be a galactic nebula but in 1934 Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason discovered its spiral nature and identified it as a galaxy. Visually IC 342 is less impressive than its magnitude suggests, but on very good nights when high overhead it's a fine sight in medium and large amateur scopes.
The galaxy is best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of November, December and January. It's circumpolar from all latitudes greater than 22N but not well situated for southern observers where it never climbs very high above the northern horizon.
IC 342 is listed as number 5 in the Caldwell catalogue.