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.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: September 2013

Venus remains in the west at dusk. It outshines everything but the Sun and Moon, so you can begin observing it during deep twilight. On September 18, Venus passes Saturn (they are just over three degrees apart).

Saturn is now shining in the south/southwest at dusk. Although not as bright as Venus, it does outshine the stars around it, so you can’t miss it. Jupiter is higher in the morning sky this month. Look for it in the east at dawn. Mars, much dimmer than Jupiter, now pulls away from it in the morning sky. Look for it to Jupiter’s lower left in the morning sky at dawn.

Sky Map: September 2013In September the Big Dipper begins to appear to the lower left of the North Star. As a result, it may be hard to see if you have trees or buildings north of you. The Big Dipper gets lower and lower to the horizon each evening throughout autumn, and is actually gone by November.  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.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southwest, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left. The Summer Triangle is high overhead.  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 September, 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.

Moon Phases in September 2013:

New                                September 5, 6:35 am
1st Quarter                    September 12, 12:09 pm
Full                                 September 19, 6:12 am
Last Quarter                 September 27, 10:55 pm

At 3:44 p.m. on Sunday, September 22, the Sun is directly overhead as seen from the equator. Thus, this marks the autumn equinox, the official start of fall. On this date, the Sun sets at the North Pole and rises at the South Pole. Everyone in the world has the same amount of daylight.

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.

Catch the Perseid Meteor Shower this weekend at the George Observatory!

We’re hosting late-night this weekend.

On Saturday, August 10, the George Observatory will be staying open until the wee ours of 2 a.m. in order to proffer the best possible viewing of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.

Each year in mid-August, a stream of debris ejected by the Swift-Tuttle comet, called the Perseid cloud, becomes visible to stargazers as a meteor shower.

Night at the ObservatoryPhoto courtesy of Sergio Garcia Rill Photography

These “shooting stars” are actually streaks of light that occur when tiny dust particles in the comet’s debris trail collide with and are vaporized by the Earth’s atmosphere.

Want to know more about the science behind meteor showers? Check out this great video from space.com:

Normal park entrance fees ($7 per person; free for children 12 and younger) apply.

As always, personal telescopes are welcome! The shower is also visible to the naked eye. Lawn chairs, bug spray, snacks and blankets are encouraged.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: July 2013

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 is now shining in the south/southwest at dusk. Although not as bright as Venus, it does outshine the stars around it, so you can’t miss it.

Mars and Jupiter emerge into the morning sky this month. Look for them low in the east/northeast at dawn, with Jupiter much brighter. Mars passes less than one degree from Jupiter on the morning of July 22.

Sky Map July 2013

The Big Dipper is above the North Star and to its left, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; those stars are in the south at dusk. Leo, the Lion, sets in the west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left. The Summer Triangle is high in the east. The stars of summer are here.

Moon Phases in July 2013:

New                               July 8, 2:15 a.m.
First Quarter                 July 15, 10:19 p.m.
Full                                July 22, 1:15 p.m.
Last Quarter                 July 29, 12:44 p.m.

At about 10 a.m. on Friday, July 5, the Earth is as far from the Sun as it will get this year — a position known as aphelion. It may seem counterintuitive to be farthest from the Sun now and closest to the Sun just after the New Year, however, the Earth’s orbit is almost a circle; the difference between perihelion and aphelion is too small to affect our seasons.

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. I generally do one such tour on short May nights.

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