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Look up: Southern Cross Stargazer for October

Orionid Meteor Shower happens Oct. 21-22.
Orionid Meteor Shower happens Oct. 21-22. earthsky.org

What to look for in the skies this month.

Evening

The Autumnal Equinox last month heralds the changing night skies. As October begins, summer constellations slide further into the west while Autumn stars rise in the east by nightfall.

Hercules leads Vega, in Lyra the Harp, and the vast Summer Triangle west of Zenith. Cygnus, Swan, soars within the Triangle. Colorful double stars and nebulas are embedded in the Swan.

Deneb, the northern point star of the Triangle, anchors the Swan’s tailfeather. Altair, in Aquila, Eagle, is the southern point star. Bright Vega is the western point star.

As the Triangle pivots lower in the northwest, the Swan becomes the Northern Cross. Ruddy Arcturus, a red giant star, sparkles low in the west. The Big Dipper lays on the northwestern horizon. Huge Scorpius crawls above the southwestern horizon.

Bright Antares, a red supergiant, is the heart beating in the Scorpion’s torso. The Sagittarian Teapot (center of our Milky Way Galaxy) drifts into the southwest. The Teaspoon lies above the Teapot. Pluto hides nearby at a very dim 14th magnitude.

Aim binoculars to the final views of shimmering deep sky objects in the south and southwest. The Summer Milky Way (River of Stars) arches from the southwest to the northwest. Capricornus, Sea Goat, plods behind the Teapot. Grus, Crane, stretches its starry neck above the southern horizon.

Fomalhaut twinkles in the south below dim blue Neptune, in Aquarius. Cetus, Whale, swims along the southeastern horizon. Blue-green Uranus floats above the Whale in Pisces, Fish. In the east, Aries, Ram chases The Great Square of Pegasus (Winged Horse) toward the Zenith.

The Royal Family arrives in the northeast: King Cepheus, Queen Cassiopeia (stars shaped in a W) daughter Andromeda (holding our nearest galaxy), and Perseus, Hero. The delicate Seven Sisters (Pleiades cluster) dance on the east-northeastern horizon. They lead Taurus, Bull, Aldebaran in the Hyades cluster into view late evening.

Oct. 4: Last Quarter Moon occurs 5:06 p.m. and rises after midnight.

Oct. 11: Uranus rises in the southeast opposite the setting sun. The blue-green planet, visible in telescopes, will be brightest and closest to Earth 1.8 billion miles away during the month. The outer planet will hang high in the south at midnight and set in the west by dawn. Research telescopes detected a thin ring around Uranus.

Oct. 12: New Moon occurs 8:06 p.m.

Oct. 15: By nightfall aim binoculars to the young crescent moon leading Scorpius in the southwest, Silver Saturn perches on the Scorpion’s head.

Oct. 16: At dusk the moon forms a triangle with ruddy Antares (lower left) and Saturn (lower right) in the southwest. Binoculars will reveal dark Earthshine on the lunar surface.

Oct. 18: Tonight the moon floats above the tilted Sagittarian Teapot pouring onto the Scorpion’s stinger tail.

Oct. 21: First Quarter Moon occurs 4:31 p.m.

Oct. 21-22: Orionid Meteor Shower may produce a few early meteors by midnight.

Oct. 23: Moon drifts near outer planet Neptune.

Oct. 29: Mid-evening, the bright moon shines 0.6 degrees left of ruddy Aldebaran (Bull’s red eye) in the V-shaped Hyades cluster (Bull’s face) as Taurus, Bull climbs above the eastern horizon. By midnight the Royal Family reigns in the north. Capella guides Auriga, Charioteer, higher in the northeast.

Morning

The predawn October eastern sky is ablaze with winter stars and planets. By 6 a.m. white-hot Venus, Morning Star, continues to shine its brightest as it leads Leo, Lion, higher in the east.

Dim ruddy Mars and golden Jupiter follow Venus. Mars lies 4 degrees below Regulus (star in the elbow of the reclining Lion). The Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, climb toward the Zenith. Capella steers Auriga, Charioteer, across the north. The Royal Family swings into the northwest.

The Northern Cross stands in the northwest. Orion, Hunter, strides high across the south in pursuit of westbound Taurus, Bull, led by the Pleiades and Hyades clusters. Procyon, Little Dog, follows Orion.

Brilliant blue Sirius (a nearby star) sparkles in Orion’s Big Dog in the southeast. Canopus, in the ancient ship Argo, radiates rainbow colors low in the south from the southern hemisphere. Neptune sails low in the west followed by Uranus in the southwest.

Oct. 2: The bright moon shines near ruddy Aldebaran in the Hyades cluster in Taurus.

Oct. 5: Last Quarter Moon drifts near the Beehive star cluster below the Twins.

Oct. 8: By 6 a.m. the waning moon forms a triangle with brilliant Venus and the star Regulus in the east. Mercury appears on the eastern horizon.

Oct. 10: Before dawn, aim binoculars and telescopes at the celesial lineup in the east: Regulus leads Venus, Mars, Jupiter, waning moon and Mercury.

Oct. 15: By 6 a.m. Jupiter meets Mars 1 degree apart. Mercury reaches its highest altitude near the eastern horizon.

Oct. 17: Before dawn superb view in the east of Mars and Jupiter 0.4 degree apart in optical equipment and cameras.

Oct. 21-22: Orionid Meteor Shower moonset at 1:30 a.m. enhances views of Orionids radiating from Orion. Earth passes through the dust tail of Comet Halley that produces tiny particles zipping into our atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour. The meteors incinerate into colorful celestial fireworks producing 15 meteors per hour before dawn.

Oct. 23: Venus and Mars remain 5 degrees apart for the rest of the month, as Jupiter moves closer to Venus and creates a trio in the east before dawn.

Oct. 25: In the predawn, Venus and Jupiter are 1.1 degree apart.

Oct. 26: Venus reaches highest altitude in the east. The waning moon glides 0.9 degrees below Uranus in the southwest.

Oct. 27: The Hunters’ Moon is full at 8:05 a.m.

Oct. 29: The star Spica, in Virgo, appears on the southeastern horizon 3.8 degrees right of Mercury.

Oct. 31: At dawn, Venus and Mars are 2 degrees apart in the east. The bright waning moon rises on its northernmost path.

Barb Yager: 305-661-1375, barbyager@aol.com, scas.org.

Special events

Friday, Oct. 16: Southern Cross Astronomical Society presents talent night at FIU, featuring photos by members and question-and-answer sessions. The free program begins at 8 p.m. at CP-145 lecture hall in the Physics Building on the Maidique Campus. Park in faculty or visitor spaces in campus garage on the west side of Southwest 109th Avenue at Southwest Eighth Street. Info: 305-661-1375.

Friday, Oct. 30: The Hunters Moon Star Party is from 7 to 10 p.m. at Fruit & Spice Park, 24801 SW 187th Ave., Homestead. Free admission. Info: 205-247-5727.

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