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Sky Report - October 2008

Two Planets at Dusk, the Hunter’s Moon and Two Planets at Dawn

We lose more than an hour of sunlight in October. Sunrises in early October are about 7:15 a.m. while sunrises in late October are about 7:40 a.m. During October, sunsets slide backward from 6:55 p.m. (early) to 6:20 p.m. (late). (The shift to Standard Time won’t be until the first weekend in November.) Through most of October, the sun appears in the star group Virgo. The zodiac star groups well seen in the evening hours include Sagittarius (where Jupiter shines), Capricornus (Neptune), Aquarius (Uranus), Pisces and Aries (moving from West to East). In the predawn skies, one can see the zodiac groups Cancer, Gemini, Taurus and Aries well (from East to West).

The moon can be seen very low in the 7:30 p.m. southwestern sky as a skinny crescent in early October. On October 2nd, the crescent moon appears about 10 degrees to the left of the planet Venus. On October 6th, the half full moon appears near the bright planet Jupiter. Binoculars held steadily will allow you to glimpse the moon’s larger craters along the moon’s straight edge and also a few of the large moons of Jupiter (seen as tiny points on either side of the planet). The moon is full on the night of October 14-15. This is the Hunters’ Moon, a moon that provides extra evening moonlight for the next few nights. By October 21st, the moon appears half full in the morning sky, among the stars of Gemini. On October 24th and 25th, the crescent moon appears near the bright planet Saturn in the southeastern dawn. Below and to the left of Saturn is the innermost planet Mercury. Mercury is best seen in late October about 7 a.m. low in the southeastern dawn among the stars of Virgo.

The brightest stars in the evening sky include: white-blue Vega, high in the West and Altair, farther South and to the left. In the dusk, you may see the bright golden star Arcturus, low in the West. The Big Dipper’s handle can be extended leftward to Arcturus. Low in the South is Fomalhaut, the bright star marking the mouth of the Southern Fish. Low in the Northeast is the bright golden star Capella. Capella and Vega are on opposite sides of the North Star. As the hours pass, Capella climbs higher into the sky and Vega sinks lower.
The best star groups to view on October evenings include: the Big Dipper, whose 7 stars form a dipper that could hold soup, close to the northern horizon; the zig-zag star group called Cassiopeia (5 stars) in the Northeast high above Capella; the Great Square of Pegasus, a large diamond shaped group (resembles a baseball diamond with the 4 bases represented) in the East; and the Summer Triangle, a trio of bright stars that includes Vega and Altair.

The most interesting October star sight that becomes prominent low in the eastern sky in the evenings is the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. Late in the evening, when the Pleiades is well up in the sky, it resembles a tangle of fire flies. A sharp eyed observer may count six stars. Binocular will reveal a dozen stars, resembling diamonds on black velvet. The Seven Sisters is a star cluster, a flock of stars moving together through space at a distance of 400 light years. Below the Seven Sisters is the bright orange star Aldebaran, marking the eye of Taurus, the Bull.

Now featured at the Frostburg State Planetarium is “The Life Story of Stars” with free public presentations on each Sunday in October. Our presentations are at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Tawes Hall 302. The Planetarium is just inside the front doors of Tawes that faces the Compton Science Center and away from the FSU Clock Tower. Following the 45 minute Planetarium presentation, visitors are invited to tour of the Science Discovery Center in the Compton Center just across the street. The Discovery Center features a remarkable collection of preserved Mammals by Dr. Joseph Cavallaro, a native of Westernport. Dr. Cavallaro went on over 50 Safaris to five different continents. To get a free Planetarium/Science Discovery Center bookmark with a map of Tawes Hall, Compton Center and convenient parking, call (301) 687-7799 and leave your name and mailing address.

By Dr. Bob Doyle









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