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Sky Report -October 2009

Early Harvest Moon,  Jupiter Peaks and Milky Way Splits Evening Sky in Two

October’s full moon occurs on the evening of the third, with the moon in the dim star group Pisces. This is the Harvest Moon, the full moon nearest to the start of fall. The moon orbit’s low angle to the eastern horizon will give us extra evening moonlight for the next four evenings. On the morning of October 11th, the half full moon makes a triangle with Mars and the star Pollux of Gemini. At dawn on October 16th, the moon makes another triangle with the brilliant planet Venus and the planet Saturn. A week before the end of October, the moon reappears in the western dusk, growing to half full on October 26th with the planet Jupiter nearby.

The very bright planet Jupiter peaks in the South in the early evening, shining among the stars of Capricornus. In mid October, Jupiter is about 422 million miles from Earth, it’s light taking about 38 minutes to reach us. A telescope magnifying 40 times will show Jupiter’s disk as large as our moon appears to the eye. Binoculars held steadily will show Jupiter’s larger moons Callisto and Ganymede as tiny points as they swing on either side of the planet.

On October evenings, the Milky Way can be seen as a diffuse band of light on moonless evenings far from city lights. There will be no bright moonlight in the early evening from October 8th  through October 21st. Find a place free from streetlights and give your eyes several minutes to become dark adapted. Look for a rippled band of light running from the Northeast horizon through the top of the sky and down to the  Southwest horizon. This glow marks the central plane of our galaxy where many distant suns lie. Along the Milky Way you will see the bright golden star Capella (low in the Northeast), the bright star Deneb (nearly overhead) and the bright star Altair (mid way up in the Southwest).

Other bright stars in the October evening sky include Fomalhaut low in the Southeast and white-blue Vega high in the West. The Big Dipper is quite low in the North with its scoop able to hold soup. Very early in the evening, you may spot golden Arcturus, furiously sparkling low in the West Northwest.
Early risers can see two fine planet line ups in October. On October 8th, the planets Mercury and Saturn are only 1/3 of a degree apart in the 6:30 a.m. eastern dawn. Five mornings later, Saturn will be within ½ degree of Venus.

Our October program at the Frostburg State Planetarium is “Bare Eyed Astronomy”, about all sky objects and sights that one can see by eye alone. This program is shown each Sunday in October at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Tawes 302. Call (301) 687-4270 for road directions or call (301) 687-7799 to leave your name and mailing address to receive a free Planetarium bookmark (with schedule and small campus map).        

The Planetarium is in Tawes 302. Tawes is a modest building across from the large Compton Center, near the Lane University Center, and not far from the Performing Arts Center. To request a Planetarium bookmark, call (301) 687-7799 and leave your name and mailing address on the voice machine.         

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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