This month’s big celestial news might be the annular solar eclipse that will be seen in the Americas, but everyone can share the fun of casual stargazing by streaming or downloading October’s Sky Tour astronomy podcast.
Celestially speaking, this month’s big news is an annular (ring) eclipse of the Sun on October 14th. The path crosses all of the Americas, starting in the Pacific Northwest before slicing across Nevada, Utah, and Texas. Then it passes over the Yucatán Peninsula, much of Central America, and central South America. This “ring of fire” event will last nearly 5 minutes or more along the centerline, and on that day virtually everyone in the Americas will see a partial solar eclipse (weather permitting, of course). You’ll find more details here.
Two weeks later, on October 28th, comes this year’s full Hunter’s Moon. On that night a bit of its disk slips into Earth’s umbral shadow, creating a partial lunar eclipse. This event isn’t visible from North America, but if you’re a Sky Tour listener somewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere, you’ll be able to see it that night.
Once evening twilight fades, turn left from the sunset point so that you’re facing southeast. Saturn is right there, kind of by itself and roughly a third of the way from the horizon to overhead. It looks like a brighter-than-average star. Don’t confuse it with somewhat dimmer Fomalhaut, which really is a star, situated lower down, by about twice the width of your clenched fist at arm’s length, and closer to the horizon.
An hour or two after sunset, you’ll see something low in the east that’s much brighter than Saturn. Can you guess what it is? No, it’s not a supernova. And it’s not Venus either, because that planet never strays this far from the Sun in the sky. (In fact, right now Venus is putting on a show in the eastern sky before dawn.) Have you figured it out? Yes! It’s Jupiter, a dazzling 25 times brighter than Saturn.
Jupiter doesn’t reach opposition, when it’s closest to Earth, until the first week of November. But October is close enough, and so Jupiter looks very obvious. And the Moon will pair dramatically with Jupiter twice this month, on the nights of the 1st and the 28th.
As the evening’s starry sky pinwheels through the changing seasons, the Big Dipper does a slow counterclockwise dance around Polaris, the North Star. And where is Polaris, you might ask? Find the two stars on the right side of the Big Dipper’s bowl. Now draw an imaginary line through them, and follow that line upward and to the right until you spot a medium-bright star pretty much all by itself. There you go! That’s Polaris.
Three fists to the right of Polaris, and a bit higher up, you’ll see a group of five stars crudely shaped like a “3”. Or maybe you’ll see them as a broad “W” tipped up on its left corner. The whole pattern is a little bigger than your clenched fist. This is the constellation Cassiopeia, who is a queen in Greek mythology. You’ll see that Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper are situated on opposite sides of the North Star. So when one is up high, the other is down low. The Dipper dominates in spring and summer, while Cassiopeia rules in fall and winter.
These quick tips are just a sample of the fun, informative romp around the night sky that awaits you when you stream or download this month’s of our long-running Sky Tour astronomy podcast. If you’ve never listened to it before, give it a try!