Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Planets near alignment, Astronomy Day arrives, and the clock ‘falls back’ this October

October Seeing Stars

Saturn is now in the southwestern sky at dusk. It outshines the stars around it, so it’s also easy to see. By Halloween night, however, Saturn sets in twilight; it drops into the Sun’s glare next month. 

Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will come close together in the sky late this month. Right now, the three planets are almost in a vertical line, with Venus, Jupiter on the bottom, and Mars in between. Venus is brighter than Jupiter and both outshine all stars we ever see at night, so they’re easy to find even in twilight. Mars is much, much dimmer than those two. It is now just below (and slightly dimmer than) the star Regulus in Leo.  During this month, watch as Mars gains on Jupiter and Venus gains on them both. Mars overtakes Jupiter Oct. 17, when they are just 0.38 degrees apart. By way of comparison, your pinky held at arm’s length blocks about one degree. Venus then passes one degree from Jupiter Oct. 26. That morning, the three planets form the most compact alignment, fitting within a circle 3.35 degrees across. Venus goes on to overtake Mars the morning of Nov. 3. They are 0.68 degrees apart that morning.

The Big Dipper is left of the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ in the west at dusk. 

Autumn represents sort of an ‘intermission’ in the sky, with bright summer stars setting at dusk, while bright winter patterns such as Orion have not yet risen. The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest early in the evening. The Summer Triangle is high in the west. Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is in the east, indicating that autumn has begun. 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. Nearby constellations Andromeda and Triangulum (a small triangle) contain the spiral galaxies nearest to our own.

Moon Phases

Moon Phases in October 2015:

Last Quarter: Oct. 4, 4:06 p.m.

New: Oct. 12, 7:06 p.m.

1st Quarter: Oct. 20, 3:31 p.m.

Full: Oct. 27, 7:05 p.m.

Our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory is Saturday, Oct. 24! On Astronomy Day, we have activities from 3 to 10 p.m., and all of the telescopes, even the ones that normally cost $5 to look through, are free. It’s the biggest astronomy event in southeast Texas! Click here for more information.

Halloween is on Saturday this year, which means that the next day, Nov. 1, is the first Sunday of November. Therefore, Daylight Saving Time ends and we ‘fall back’ to standard time at 2 a.m. that morning. (The time goes from 1:59 a.m. back to 1 a.m., giving us the 1 a.m. hour twice.) So get your #ChillsAtHMNS, don’t forget to set your clocks back, and enjoy your extra hour of sleep Halloween night!

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. 

Clear Skies!

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Come out to the George for Astronomy Day November 8!

This star map shows the Houston sky at 8 pm CDT on November 1, 7 pm CST on November 15, and dusk on November 30.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle is high in the west.  This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila.  The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest, with Mars to its left.   Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the east.  To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 8 pm CDT on November 1, 7 pm CST on November 15, and dusk on November 30. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.
The Summer Triangle is high in the west. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest, with Mars to its left. Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the east. To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out.

This month, Mars remains in the southwest at dusk this month as it pulls away from the teapot of Sagittarius. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind

Jupiter is now higher in the east at dawn; it is the brightest thing there. 

Venus is passing behind the Sun and thus out of sight this month. Superior conjunction (Venus in line with the Sun, on the far side of the Sun) was on October 25.

Saturn is also out of sight behind the Sun this month. Conjunction with the Sun is on November 18.

The Summer Triangle now shifts towards the west as the Great Square of Pegasus appears higher, approaching the zenith. As the autumn ‘intermission’ in between the bright stars of summer and winter continues, Houstonians with a clear southern horizon can try to find a star that few Americans get to see. Due south and very low to the horizon at about 10:00 pm in mid-November is Achernar, 9th brightest star in the sky. It marks the end of the river Eridanus, one of the dim watery patterns that fill the southern autumn sky. If you can find it, Achernar will seem of average brightness because it is shining through so much air. Still, it is a good way to remind yourself that the stars we see depend on our latitude, and that the sky on the Gulf Coast is similar to, but not the same as, what most Americans see. 

Moon Phases in November 2014:
Full: November 6, 4:22 pm
Last Quarter: November 14, 9:17 am
New: November 22, 6:31 am
1st Quarter: November 29, 4:06 am

Our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory is this Saturday, November 8!  On Astronomy Day we have activities from 3-10 pm, and all of the telescopes, even the ones that normally cost $5 to look through, are free.  What’s more, the weather looks just great so far!  Surf to www.astronomyday.net for more information.

Click here for the Burke Baker Planetarium Schedule.

On 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. 

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

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

october131

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.