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Beginner’s Guide to Sky Gazing in Fall Months
(October, November & December)

by Dr. Bob Doyle, Sky Columnist

When do the stars and planets begin to be seen?
In October, it’s about 8 p.m. For November, stars & planets begin to be seen at 7 p.m. (Standard Time) and for December, sky objects can be seen as early as 6 p.m.

How do you find directions without using a compass?
After the sun sets, you will see the brightest twilight glow in the West. Face that direction; your right arm extended side wards points roughly North and your left arm extended side wards points roughly South.

How do you tell a bright star from a bright planet?
Both objects appear as points of light, but the planets tend to shine more steadily than the stars. The planets are found only along the zodiac, a band in the sky that runs from the East, into the South and then down into the West.

How do the stars and planets change position during the night?
The Earth spins Eastward, that is why Europe has sunrises while we are still in the a.m. darkness. As a reflection of this eastward spin, the stars, moon and planets roll towards the West during the night. Stars will appear to rise in the East (as the sun does) , usually cruise into the South and then drop out of view in the West. The only exception to this behavior are stars in the North that seem to circle about the North Star in a direction opposite to how the hands of a clock moves. The North Star is not very bright.

During the Fall 2017 months, when can I see the moon?
October 5, November 3-4 and December 3 are the dates for full moon (which change from year to year). I call the full moon the night moon as it is visible all night long. A week before the full moon is when the moon appears half full in the evening sky. I call this the evening moon as it is mostly seen during evening hours (p.m.). You can also see the evening moon during the daylight afternoon hours. A week after the full moon is when the moon appears half full in the morning sky. I call this moon the morning moon as it is seen during the morning hours (a.m.) You can also see the morning moon in the morning daylight hours.

What stars and star groups are the easiest to spot during the fall months?
The Summer Triangle, a large pattern of three bright stars can be seen in the West on evenings in October and November and at dusk in December. Vega, a white-blue star is at the lower right corner of the Triangle.. On clear moonless nights, the Milky Way runs across the Summer Triangle, as seen from dark areas, away from town lights. Low in the Northeast on fall evenings is a bright golden star named Capella. Capella and Vega are on opposite sides of the North Star. So as Vega drops lower in the sky, Capella climbs higher. To the right of Capella is the bright orange star Aldebaran, marking the eye of Taurus, the Bull. Above Aldebaran is a tiny cluster of stars, known as the Seven Sisters or Pleiades star cluster. On a clear, moonless night count how many stars you can see there. If you can count 6 or more in this star cluster, you have good far vision.

How many stars can be seen by eye on a clear, dark night?
In our area, perhaps a thousand stars might be seen. From a dry, desert area in the Southwestern U.S., perhaps two thousand stars may be visible. From the center of a large city, perhaps only a few hundred stars may be seen. Binoculars will allow you to see many more stars.

What more can you see with binoculars or a small telescope?
Binoculars held steadily may allow you to spot the moon’s craters and mountain ridges (when moon appears half full). Binoculars held steadily may allow you to see over a dozen stars in the 7 Sisters star cluster. In the eastern dawn, starting in late November and through December, the bright planet Jupiter can be seen. Small points of light nearby as seen in binoculars or a telescope are Jupiter’s large moons. Saturn is rather low in the western dusk and not well suited for telescope observing. This fall, the planet Mars is in the morning sky and far from the Earth, revealing little detail through a telescope. Venus can be seen on October and November dawns. Venus can be briefly seen at dawn in October and November, appearing close to Mars in October and near Jupiter in mid November