Sky events for October 2016

1st Quarter 1st-quarter1October 8, 11:33pm


October 15, 11:23pm

3rd Quarter3rd-quarter

October 22, 2:14pm


October 30, 12:38pm


This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on October 1, 9 pm CDT on October 15, and 8 pm CDT on October 31.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. 


The Summer Triangle is high in the west.  The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest.  How long can you follow Saturn as it sets in twilight?  The Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east at dusk. To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out. 


Venus is a little higher in the evening sky this month. Look low in the west in evening twilight. On Saturday, October 29, Venus passes three degrees below Saturn.

Mars and Saturn are now in the southwest at dusk.

Mars continues to fade each night as Earth leaves it farther and farther behind. Also, it moves faster than Saturn against the background stars, so you can watch Mars pull away from Saturn this month.

Jupiter emerges into the morning sky this month. Look low in the east at dawn.

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

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southwest, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left. Saturn is right above Antares. The Summer Triangle is almost overhead. The stars of summer remain high in the early evening sky. Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east at dusk. Autumn is here.

Moon Phases in October 2016:

1st Quarter Oct. 8, 11:33 p.m.

Full Oct. 15, 11:23 p.m.

Last Quarter Oct. 22, 2:14 p.m.

New Oct. 30, 12:38 p.m.

Just after midnight on Wednesday, October 19, the waning gibbous Moon occults the bright star Aldebaran. Aldebaran blinks out of view at 12:04 am as the Moon passes in front of it and reappears at 1:06 am from behind the dark limb of the Moon.

In fact, the Moon has occulted Aldebaran at least once a month since January 2015; this will continue until September 3, 2018. However, many of these events are not visible from North America or happen in daytime for us. This occultation, however, is clearly visible from Houston (weather permitting, of course). The waning gibbous Moon and Aldebaran will be high in the east by midnight. You may need a telescope to watch the actual moment of disappearance, as the sunlit lunar disk will wash out Aldebaran. The reappearance, however, is noticeable in binoculars since the opposite limb of the Moon will be dark. We’ll see another occultation of Aldebaran on Monday evening, December 12, with the Moon one day before full.

Come see us Saturday nights at the George Observatory! 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.

Our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory is on Saturday, October 8! On Astronomy Day we have activities from 3-10 pm, and all of the telescopes, even the ones that normally cost money to look through, are free. Surf to for more information.

Cigar boxes and sparkles are the way to a teachers heart!

Earlier this month we had our first Educator’s Overnight of the school year and the theme was Day of the Dead! This topic has been near and dear to the Education department and we always manage to have one or two activities for teachers or students surrounding the Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Teachers adding details to their cigar box altars!

Teachers adding details to their cigar box altars!

We had a great time getting everything ready for the activities. We had plenty of things planned so that the hours would be full of things to do. Our goal was to make activities that teachers could “try” and then take back with them to their classroom to use with their students – what we didn’t expect was that the teachers would have so much fun with the arts and crafts! Kathleen Havens, the assistant director of youth education here at the museum, put together an awesome curriculum and gave the teachers the jumping off points and examples for all of the hands on activities.  

These enthusiastic educators transformed their simple cigar boxes into detailed works of art!

These enthusiastic educators transformed their simple cigar boxes into detailed works of art!

The teachers decorated ‘calacas’,  went through the process of making sugar skullsand then decorated some pre-made sugar skulls with colorful royal icing, created mini-altars in cigar boxes and painted Catrina-shaped fridge magnets. If you’ve ever worked with a group of kids on a project and you hear groans when you say “ok everyone, 5 more minutes and then we’re going to move on” you would be completely familiar with the sounds we heard from this group of teachers!  They were so excited to continue working on their mini-altars, creating tiny bouquets of flowers out of modeling clay, cutting out tiny papel picado from construction paper, building stairways and platforms for their tiny clay loaves of bread to perch upon… these teachers were going to town! After the allotted time for hands-on activities had finished for the night David Temple took the group on a flashlight tour of the Hall of the Americas and the Paleontology Hall.  Then some teachers decided to call it a night, but others asked to be able to go back and work on their altars – how could we say no!?

By about 3 am, everyone had finally headed up to bed and then it seemed like only moments later I was waking everyone up for breakfast at 7 am! Just imagine, those teachers were up in time for school on Friday and still up at 3am on Saturday morning with plenty of energy – that’s absolutely incredible! I hope that they took their projects back to share with their students and spread the enthusiasm for Dia de los Muertos they shared with us at the Overnight!

Gel food coloring (found in the cake decorating section of cooking stores) is used to make the really vivid colors of royal icing!

Gel food coloring (found in the cake decorating section of any cooking store) is used to make the really vivid colors of royal icing!

This was the second Educator Overnight that we’ve had here at the HMNS, and I think we all agree that it was both a sucess and a lot of fun! We’ll be hosting our next Educator Overnight – Mummies, Tombs and Catacombs in April and registrations are already rolling in! If you’re not so excited to sleep in the Museum we also offer 3 hour ExxonMobil Teacher Tuesdays. The next one up is ‘Polymers!’ with Carolyn Leap which should be lots of fun too!
Want more info? The recipes we use to make sugar skulls and the icing to decorate them can be found online at Mexican Sugar – they also have a lot of other cool Day of the Dead related items to check out.
I have included a few photos here and have posted more (with some closeups of finished sugar skull designs) on our HMNS Facebook page. If you want to become a fan of HMNS you can check them out!