Some daily events in the changing sky for October 3 – 11.
Friday, October 3
Saturday, October 4
Sunday, October 5
Monday, October 6
Tuesday, October 7
Wednesday, October 8
Thursday, October 9
Friday, October 10
Saturday, October 11
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly foldout map in each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of maps; the standards are Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the even more detailed Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand and a curious mind."
Without these, they wisely say, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is hidden in the glare of the Sun.
Venus (magnitude –3.8) is gradually becoming more prominent after sunset. Look for it above the west-southwest horizon in fairly bright twilight, about 45 minutes after sundown.
Mars is lost in the sunset.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.5, in Sagittarius) shines highest in the south-southwest in twilight, and lower in the southwest later, so get your scope on it early. Once night arrives, you'll see that Jupiter is above the Sagittarius Teapot and below the end of the smaller, dimmer Teaspoon.
Saturn glows in the east at dawn. (Don't confuse it with Regulus higher up.) A telescope will show that Saturn's rings have turned nearly edge on; they're currently tilted 3° to our line of sight and closing. They'll reach a minimum of 0.8° at the end of the year, then start opening again.
Uranus and Neptune (magnitudes 5.7 and 7.9, respectively, in Aquarius and Capricornus) are in the southeast and south during evening. Use our article and finder charts or the chart in the September Sky & Telescope, page 63.
Pluto (magnitude 14.0, in the northwestern corner of Sagittarius) is the southwest right after dark. If you've got a big scope and a dark sky, use our article and finder chart.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
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