What’s Up?

Updated October 11, 2019

The Moon is a waxing gibbous, reaching Full Moon phase on the evening of October 13 as seen in the western hemisphere. It slides across Taurus on the evenings of October 15 thru 17. On the 16th, the Pleiades lie to the Moon’s upper left and Aldebaran is to the lower left; all of these rise within an hour after dark. The Moon is near Alebaran on the evening of the 17th.

Antares is still visible 10 degrees to the lower right of bright Jupiter, but getting more and more difficult to see. For observers with clear transparent skies and a flat western horizon, with a pair of binoculars you can get a look at Venus and Mercury, very low in the West-southwest about 20-25 minutes after sunset. They are still challenging to see but should become a bit easier to see as the month progresses. Jupiter is visible low in the southwest as twilight fades; it is followed by Saturn low in the south southwest. Uranus is well up by mid-evening in the east and crosses the meridian due south around 1 am local time. Neptune is highest in the south by 10 pm local time. Finally Mars is beginning to show itself just above the eastern horizon, but will need binoculars and a flat horizon with clear skies to catch it during early to mid-dawn.

Cygnus the Swan is nearly overhead as it gets dark in early October. Facing southwest, look up and the Cross of Cygnus stands upright. Further west, high in the northwest is Vega; Altair completes the Summer Triangle high in the south. Cassiopeia is higher in the northeast sky than the Big Dipper is in the northwest sky. Arcturus is getting low in the west northwest at dusk. About one-third the distance from Arcturus to Vega is the “crown jewel” of the Northern Crown, Corona Borealis, a magnitude 2.2 star named Alphecca. This star is actually an eclipsing binary, like Algol, but unlike Algol it’s brightness variations are too faint for the eye to see. It has a 17-day period. Right of Vega is another 2nd magnitude star Eltanin, which marks the nose of the dragon Draco. The rest of the head is marked by three more stars and forms a lozenge-shaped pattern; the remainder of the constellation snakes its way across the northern sky, with the tail between the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper.

Fomalhaut, the brightest star of the Southern Fish (Pisces Australis) becomes visible very low in the southeast just after dusk and is low in the south late evening. It is the only 1st magnitude star in that part of the sky. The star is situated below and to the left of the waxing gibbous Moon on the 8th of October; the following evening it is almost directly below. The nearly full Moon lies below the Great Square of Pegasus on the evening of the 12th of October. The Square looks more like a diamond as it is poised balanced on one corner. Bright Capella becomes visible in the early evening low in the northeast and it gets higher at the same time each evening as the days and weeks pass. Capella marks the start of the realm of the winter constellations which are above the eastern horizon an hour or two after local midnight.

The Milky Way crosses the zenith (depending on latitude) in the evenings, in the constellation Cygnus. The milky band stretches from the southwest to the northeast and contains many deep-sky treasures. To see the Milky Way requires a dark, clear, moonless night away from the city lights. The softly glowing band winds through the summer constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius low in the southwest, up through Scutum and Aquila, then on to Cygnus overhead. From there it winds through Cepheus the King and Cassiopeia the Queen before disappearing behind the northeastern horizon in Perseus. With a pair of binoculars scan the entire visible band from southwest to northeast and look for small knots of stars, clusters, star clouds, dark lanes, etc. In the center of Cepheus is an interesting, compact open cluster NGC 7160. There are other clusters great and small along the path and a good star chart or planetarium program (such as Stellarium, which can be downloaded for free at stellarium.org)

Go to https://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/this-weeks-sky-at-a-glance-october 11-19/ where you will find the current “Sky at a Glance” (currently for the week ending September 28). There are lots of links to interesting news stories and additional observing projects for those who are interested.

Last January’s total lunar eclipse featured a meteor impact flash seen and imaged widely. This event took place just as totality was getting started. One of the many imagers, Nicolas Lefaudeux, posted his images to his website. These images feature realistic views of recent total lunar eclipses as well as the meteor impact flash and other types of images. A nice montage of the total lunar eclipse was assembled by Doug Holland, it can be viewed at this website.

The Prairie View Observatory complex is almost complete and we are currently working to bring the telescopes on line. The PVO complex has 3 domes, including the existing Solar Observatory, and two new domes. For updates on this progress check out https://www.pvamu.edu/pvso/cosmic-corner/project-summary-2/. Also, more information and images can be viewed at https://sites.google.com/view/saganti-astro/home. The two new domes contain our Meade 16-inch advanced telescope (east dome, an Astrohaven clamshell style dome) and a new 0.6 meter (24-inch) PlaneWave Corrected Dall-Kirkham telescope (west dome, an Ash dome). The design features these two domes situated east and west of a visitor’s center, which is immediately north of the existing Solar Observatory. First light for the new observatory is expected later this summer. Keep checking back for updates.

Juno, the spacecraft, continues to send back spectacular images. You can find them at https://earthsky.org/space/juno-spacecraft-image-nov-2018-eichstadt-doran and  https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing?ob_from=&ob_to=&phases%5B%5D=PERIJOVE+15&perpage=16. Juno has been approved to continue orbiting Jupiter until at least July 2021.  For more information about this mission in general visit www.nasa.gov/juno. You can also visit http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/juno-jupiter/index.html which has some additional interesting facts about the mission.