The M101 supernova is fading and reddening. Supernova 2011fe, which erupted in the nearby galaxy M101 more than a month ago, peaked at about magnitude 9.9 in early and mid-September and is now fading; it was about 11.0 on the evening of October 2nd. It's also turning much deeper orange-red. See an up-to-date light curve.
It's still within visual reach of a 6-inch scope. Although it looks like an ordinary star, it's at least 1,000 times more distant than any other star that's visible in amateur telescopes from northern latitudes. See our article, The M101 Supernova Shines On.
Friday, Sept. 30
Saturday, Oct. 1
Sunday, Oct. 2
Monday, Oct. 3
Tuesday, Oct. 4
Meanwhile, Jupiter's Great Red Spot transits the planet's central meridian during all of this, around 12:16 a.m. EDT. For timetables of all of Jupiter's satellite events and Red Spot transits this month, see the October Sky & Telescope, page 54.
Wednesday, Oct. 5
Thursday, Oct. 6
Friday, Oct. 7
Saturday, Oct. 8
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 map in the center of 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 must have a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger and deeper Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's new Deep-Sky Wonders collection, Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. 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."
This Week's Planet Roundup
The Sun is displaying a spot group large enough to see with no magnification, just a safe solar filter. This is Active Region 1302, which could flare and send coronal mass ejections toward Earth at any time. A second spot on the Sun's disk is also visible with more difficulty.
Mercury is hidden in the glare of the Sun.
Venus (magnitude –3.9) is just above the horizon a little left of due west if you look 15 or 20 minutes after sunset. Binoculars help. With binoculars, you can also try for vastly fainter and more difficult Saturn just to Venus's upper right on Friday the 30th, and farther to Venus's right after that.
If you spot Venus, you'll be one of a select few to pick it up this early in its apparition — compared to the billions of people who will see it as the Evening Star blazing high in twilight in the coming months.
Mars (magnitude +1.3, in Cancer) rises around 2 a.m. daylight-saving time. By the beginning of dawn it's in good view high in the east, well below Castor and Pollux. Well to the right of Mars is Procyon. Farther lower right of Procyon shines bright Sirius. In a telescope, Mars is a tiny blob only 5 arcseconds wide.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.8, in southern Aries) rises in the east-northeast around the end of twilight and blazes brightly in the eastern sky during evening hours. Look above it for the stars of Aries and closer below it for the head of Cetus, rather dim. (And don't miss Mira, now unusually bright, to the right of the head of Cetus! See our article, Observe Mira, the Amazing Star.)
Jupiter shines highest well after midnight, making this the best time to examine it with a telescope. It's already a big 48 arcseconds wide as it nears its October 28th opposition. See our guide to observing Jupiter.
Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude 7.8, in Aquarius) are well placed in the south and southeast by mid- to late evening. Use our printable finder chart for both, or see the September Sky & Telescope, page 53.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — 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 (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
NEW BOOK: Sue French's DEEP-SKY WONDERS! This long-awaited observing guide by Sky & Telescope's Sue French is now available from Shop at Sky. Big and lavishly illustrated, it contains Sue’s 100 favorite sky tours (25 per season) from her 11 years of writing the Celestial Sampler and Deep-Sky Wonders columns for S&T. Don’t miss it!
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