Some daily events in the changing sky for October 24 – November 1.
Friday, October 24
Saturday, October 25
Sunday, October 26
Always helping to identify Altair is its little sidekick star Tarazed located a finger's width away — currently to Altair's upper right. The two may look close together, but in astronomy looks deceive. Altair is just 17 light-years away, while Tarazed is an orange giant 330 light-years distant. And though it looks dimmer (magnitude 2.7), it's actually putting out about 75 times as much light.
Monday, October 27
Tuesday, October 28
Wednesday, October 29
Thursday, October 30
Friday, October 31
Saturday, November 1
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 (magnitude –0.8) is having its best morning apparition of 2008. Look for it low in the east, far below Saturn and perhaps a bit left, about 60 to 45 minutes before sunrise. See the illustration at the top of this page.
You can always find your local sunrise time, and much else, once you put your location into our online almanac. If you're on daylight saving time, make sure the Daylight Saving Time box is checked.
Venus (bright at magnitude –3.8) is getting higher and more prominent after sunset. Look for it above the southwest horizon in twilight. Binoculars will help you spot Antares lower left of Venus early in the week, and directly below it later in the week.
Mars is lost in the sunset.
Vesta, the brightest asteroid, is easily spottable with binoculars at magnitude 6.5 in the head of Cetus. It gets high late in the evening. Use the finder chart in the November Sky & Telescope, page 67.
Jupiter (bright at magnitude –2.2, in Sagittarius) shines in the south-southwest in twilight, but lower in the southwest later — so get your scope on it early!
In the coming month watch Jupiter close in on Venus, which is currently far to its lower right, by 1° per day. They're 38° apart on October 24th and 31° on the 31st. These two brightest planets are heading toward a spectacular conjunction, 2° apart, on November 30th and December 1st.
Saturn shines in the east before and during dawn. Don't confuse it with fainter Regulus about 18° (roughly two fist-widths at arm's length) to its upper right. A telescope will show that Saturn's rings have turned nearly edge on; they're currently tilted 2° 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 5.8 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) is getting low in the southwest after dark.
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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