The seasons continue to change as we circle the Sun, and here we are to October, the first full month of autumn 2013. Nights are now longer than days, bringing a familiar chill to the air, the frozen dust of frost on chilly mornings, and changing colors in the woods.
We are finally saying farewell to the ringed planet Saturn, which graced our evening skies for summer months. I heard many oohs and aahs this past year, as folks viewed the planet through one of my telescopes. You can still find it early in October, very low in the west, to the right of Venus. It’ll be back in the evening sky next spring.
Venus is our one bright planet that is visible in October. Our neighboring planet will be very low in the west, just after sunset, most of the month. If you can see it on the evening of Oct. 7, look for the very thin crescent Moon just to the planet’s right. On Oct. 8, the Moon will have moved, and will be above Venus.
Jupiter is rising in the east around midnight in October, and is prominent in the eastern morning sky. I’ll discuss the solar system’s largest planet in a future column, when it is prominent in the evening. If you’re up early, look for it to the left of the prominent constellation Orion.
The constellations continue their march across the night sky. Look up in the southern evening sky, and you may be able to pick out the “great square” of Pegasus, 4 equally bright stars that form a pretty good square. Use the picture with this column as a guide. Above and to the right of the square, find Cygnus the swan, also called the “Northern Cross”. To the right of the square, see if you can pick out the very small constellation Delphinius, the dolphin.
Above the left side of the square, see if you can spot a fuzzy patch of light, the Andromeda galaxy. All the stars we see are in our Milky Way galaxy. But Andromeda is another galactic world, so far away that the collective light of billions of stars comes across as one fuzzy patch of light. The light takes some 2.25 million years to reach us. See if you can pick out these items, using the square as a guide.
October’s new Moon will be early, on Oct. 4. Full Moon will follow on Oct. 18. On that day, we’ll actually have a very slight lunar eclipse. The Moon will be slightly eclipsed when it rises, just after 6 p.m. By 6:45 p.m., the eclipse will be over. Since the Earth will only obscure a bit of the Sun’s light from the Moon, the eclipse will not really be noticeable. But don’t fret, on Tax Day 2014 (next April 15) we’ll have a total lunar eclipse visible in the evening sky!