Oct 15

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – October, 2012

October Offers a Variety of Viewing Opportunities

This month’s sky has a lot to offer the interested observer. Nothing spectacular or historic is likely to occur, but there are number of opportunities to see some familiar friends getting together.
Some of the best planetary observing occurs before dawn. I always like watching things move from day to day and with Venus dominating the eastern early morning sky, you can easily watch the crescent Moon pass the planet on the mornings of October 11 – 13. Don’t miss Venus pass very close to the star Regulus on the morning of October 3.
Another interesting phenomenon to observe while you are out looking at the Moon and Venus is the Zodiacal light. For two weeks beginning Oct.13, it appears as a faint, pyramidal glow rising above the eastern horizon. The Zodiacal light is produced by sunlight reflecting off tiny dust particles in the plane of the solar system. You do need rather dark skies to see it, however.
If you crave a challenge, on the morning of the 14th, use binoculars and try to find the very thin crescent Moon very low in the east starting 45 minutes before sunrise.
The sky after sunset has its own share of visual treats. The Moon plays the passing game with Mars as well. Look for the thin crescent Moon a half hour after sunset on the nights of October 17 – 20. Mars will be to its upper left on the 17th and lower right on the 18th. Just below and to the left of Mars is the star Antares, which is very similar to Mars in both color and brightness. (In fact, the name “Antares” means “rival of Mars”). The two appear closest on the evening of the 20th. Kids – is Mars really as bright as Antares? Why does it look like it is?
The modest Orionid meteor shower occurs this month on the 20th – 22nd. The Orionids are characterized by very fast meteors that streak across the sky although at a relatively low rate of about 20 per hour. This time of year it is also possible to witness meteors from the Taurid shower. These can sometimes appear as dazzling fireballs, sometimes even visible in the daytime.
Early or late, October should be a good month to enjoy what’s up in the sky.

This month in history:
Oct. 1: 300-foot radio telescope at Green Bank, WV begins operations – 1962
Oct. 4: Space Age begins when Sputnik 1, first artificial satellite, is launched – 1957
Oct. 10: Dedication of VLA – Very Large Array radio telescope (as seen in the movie “Contact”) – 1980
Oct. 14: World’s first supersonic flight made by Chuck Yeager – 1947
Oct. 26: First flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan by Cassini spacecraft – 2004
Oct. 30: STS-61A Challenger Space Shuttle launched – 1985