Seeing Stars with James Wooten: October’s “intermission” in the sky & Astronomy Day

The night sky in October is full of comings … and goings.

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Venus remains in the west at dusk. It outshines everything but the Sun and Moon, so you can begin observing it during deep twilight.

Saturn leaves the evening sky this month. For the first few days of October, you can look for it in evening twilight to the lower right of Venus. After mid-month, though, it’s hard to see. Saturn is behind the Sun (at conjunction) on Nov. 6.

Jupiter is higher in the morning sky this month. Look for it high in the south at dawn.

Mars, much dimmer than Jupiter, now pulls away from it in the morning sky. It remains in the east at dawn. On the morning of Oct. 15, look for it near Regulus in Leo.

In October, the Big Dipper is to the lower left of the North Star at dusk, and soon sets. As a result, it may be hard to see if you have trees or buildings north of you.  As the Big Dipper sets, though, Cassiopeia rises. This is a pattern of five stars in a distinct W shape, which lies directly across the North Star from the Big Dipper. Look for Cassiopeia high in the north on fall and winter evenings.

Autumn represents sort of an “intermission” in the sky, with bright summer stars setting at dusk, while bright winter stars have not yet risen. The “teapot” of Sagittarius sets in the southwest at dusk. The Summer Triangle is high in the west.  Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is in the east, indicating the start of autumn. The stars rising in the east are much dimmer than those overhead and in the southwest, because when you face east at dusk in October, you face out of the Milky Way plane.

The center of our galaxy lies between Scorpius and Sagittarius, while the Summer Triangle is also in the galactic plane. Pegasus, on the other hand, is outside the plane of our galaxy and is a good place to look for other galaxies.

october13Moon Phases in October 2013:

New                         October 4, 7:33 p.m.

1st Quarter              October 11, 6:03 p.m.

Full                           October 18, 6:36 p.m.

Last Quarter            October 26, 6:41 p.m.

The full moon of Oct. 18 enters the penumbra, a region in which Earth partially blocks the Sun. Unlike the full shadow (umbra), however, the penumbra only imperceptibly darkens the Moon.

Sat., Oct. 12, is our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory, which lasts from 3 to 10 p.m. at our observatory in Brazos Bend State Park. See here for a full list of activities.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer.  If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

Don’t miss Astronomy Day this Saturday, Oct. 20 at the George Observatory

Spend your Saturday under the stars at the George Observatory‘s annual Astronomy Day!

This family-friendly event is free with park admission to beautiful Brazos Bend State Park ($7, free for kids 12 and under), and goes from 3 p.m. all the way until 10 p.m., when the night sky comes alive.

George ObservatoryDozens of telescopes — including the George’s large domed research telescopes — will be available to the public for viewing star clusters, distant planets and galaxies.

Among the activities offered are simulated space missions aboard our Challenger Center (the first such historic center in the nation), astronomy presentations, children’s crafts, a guided tour of the constellations on our observatory deck, and more.

This fabulous event only comes once a year, so don’t miss it! Meet the dozens of local astronomy clubs and NASA organizations that come together to organize Astronomy Day and have a dazzling day (and night!) under the stars.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: October 2012

Mars remains an evening object. It is low in the southwest at dusk.

Jupiter is high in the morning sky this month. Look high in the south/southwest at dawn for the object, which outshines all stars in that direction. Jupiter is also becoming a late evening object; it rises by 10:40 p.m. on October 1st and by 8:40 p.m. on the 31st.

Seeing Stars with James WootenVenus remains high in the east at dawn, continuing a spectacular morning apparition.

Saturn drops into the glare of the setting Sun this month, and is thus out of sight.  On October 25, Saturn is in line with the Sun, or at conjunction.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, sets in the southwest during twilight, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its upper left. Meanwhile, the Summer Triangle is virtually overhead. As the stars of summer shift to the west, those of autumn fill the eastern sky.   Watch the Great Square of Pegasus rise in the east. Note that we look towards the center of our galaxy when we face between Scorpius and Sagittarius. When facing the Great Square, or especially south and east of that, we face out of the plane of our galaxy, a direction where there are fewer bright stars. That’s why the large expanse of sky rising under Pegasus seems devoid of bright stars.

For this reason, ancient Babylonians designated this broad area of sky as the ‘Celestial Sea’, and filled it with watery constellations. The only bright star in this whole expanse of our sky is Fomalhaut in the southeast, which marks the mouth of the Southern Fish.  Between the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius and Jupiter (in Taurus, the Bull), are dim zodiacal constellations including Capricornus, the Sea Goat; Aquarius, the Water Carrier; and Pisces, the Fish. The giant sea monster Cetus rises under Pisces.

Moon Phases in October 2012:

Last Quarter                  October 8, 2:33 am
New                               October 15, 7:02 am
1st Quarter                    October 21, 10:33 pm
Full                                 October 29, 2:49 pm

Saturday, October 20, is our annual Astronomy Day at George Observatory, which lasts from 3 to 10 p.m. at our observatory in Brazos Bend State Park. Click here for a full list of activities.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

To enjoy the stars in any weather from the comfort of the HMNS Planetarium, click here for a full schedule.

Would you like email updates on current events in the sky, at the planetarium, and at the George Observatory?  If so, send an email to astroinfo@hmns.org.

Go Stargazing! October Edition

Jupiter is up all night long by month’s end.

 That’s because on Friday night, October 28, Earth passes between the Sun and Jupiter.  In this alignment (‘opposition’) Jupiter rises at dusk and sets at dawn.  Already, Jupiter is a late evening object rising just after 8:30 pm on October 1.  Face east at the appropriate time and look for the brightest thing there—that’ll be Jupiter.   Once up, Jupiter remains up the rest of the night, so the King of Planets continues to dominate the western pre-dawn sky. 

Jupiter as Seen by Voyager 1
Creative Commons License photo credit: Undertow851

Venus begins to emerge from the Sun’s glare late this month.  Look for it low in the west southwest in twilight, especially as Halloween approaches.  This is the beginning of Venus’ apparition as evening star; it gets higher and easier to see for the rest of this year and is spectacular for about the first half of 2012. 

Mars is now a bit higher in the east at dawn.

It has now brightened to rival first magnitude stars such as Regulus in Leo. As it moves through dim Cancer and towards Leo, Mars is quite identifiable.  Saturn is behind the Sun and invisible.  It is directly in line with the Sun on October 13.  We thus say Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun on that date. 

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, sets in the southwest during twilight, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its upper left.  Meanwhile, the Summer Triangle is virtually overhead.  As the stars of summer shift to the west, those of autumn fill the eastern sky.   Watch the Great Square of Pegasus rise in the east.  Note that we look towards the center of our galaxy when we face between Scorpius and Sagittarius.  When facing the Great Square or especially south and east of that, we face out of the plane of our galaxy, a direction where there are fewer bright stars.

Assyrian or Babylonian
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ed Bierman

That’s why the large expanse of sky rising under Pegasus seems devoid of bright stars.

For this reason, ancient Babylonians designated this broad area of sky as the ‘Celestial Sea’, and filled it watery constellations.  The only bright star in this whole expanse of our sky is Fomalhaut in the southeast, which marks the mouth of the Southern Fish.  Between the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius and Jupiter (in Aries, the Ram), are three dim zodiacal constellations—Capricornus, the Sea Goat, Aquarius, the Water Carrier, and Pisces, the Fish.  The giant sea monster Cetus rises under Pisces.

Moon Phases in October 2011:
First Quarter October 3, 10:15 pm
Full October 11, 9:06 pm
Last Quarter October 19, 10:31 am
New October 26, 2:56 pm

Saturday, October 8, is our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory.

First Light
Creative Commons License photo credit: Space Ritual

 Come join us anytime from 3 to 10 pm.  On Astronomy Day, it is free to look through even the main domes at George.  Before dusk, we will have solar observing, Challenger Center simulations, outdoor and indoor presentations (beginning at 4) and many other activities! On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer.  If you’re there, listen for my announcement.