January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Celestial Highlights for October 2014

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller.

This month’s highlights include a total lunar eclipse in the predawn hours of Wednesday, Oct. 8, and a partial solar eclipse on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 23.

 Two eclipses in October !

The two eclipses make October a good month to follow the Moon through an entire cycle of phases and observe its changing visibility in day and night skies. I recommend certain times of the day for checking the Moon’s appearance and whereabouts. For each suggested time of day, the range of dates when Moon is above the horizon will be provided.

Everyone notices the Moon. By offering these informal science activities, we hope that witnessing the comings and goings of Moon and planets and their gatherings with other celestial objects will lead to knowledge and appreciation of the natural cycles of the sky and enrich participants’ lives.

(1) Observe the Moon in early evening, about one hour after sunset.

During the two-week periods Sept. 26-Oct. 8 and Oct. 25-Nov. 7, the Moon changes from a thin crescent low in the southwestern sky, through First Quarter phase, when Moon is half full and 90 degrees or a quarter-circle east of the Sun, on Oct. 1 and 30. By the final date of each set, Oct. 8 and Nov. 7, the Moon will have just passed through Full phase and will rise north of east, in waning gibbous phase, a little less than Full, within an hour after sunset.

Our evening twilight all-sky chart  depicts the sky at dusk mid-twilight, when the Sun is 9 degrees below the horizon, about 40 minutes after sunset at this time of year. Only the naked-eye planets and the brightest stars, those of first magnitude or brighter, are shown. Those plotted on our evening chart are the first to appear as twilight fades after sunset. October’s brightest stars at dusk are Arcturus in the west and Vega nearly overhead. Also high in the sky are Altair and Deneb, completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. Mars lingers in the southwest all month, while Antares, just 4° from Mars on Oct. 1, sinks into SW as month progresses. Saturn, on its way to conjunction beyond the Sun in mid-November, sinks into WSW. Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, climbs into the SE.

In the early evening in October, there are few bright stars near the Moon’s path.  On Oct. 25, use binoculars to catch Saturn within 5° lower right of thin crescent Moon, and Antares 8° lower left of Moon on the next evening. On Oct. 27 and 28, find Mars 9° left of the Moon on the first evening, and about the same distance to its lower right on the next. 

Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

Abrams Planetarium
A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

(2) Watch moonrise each day when it occurs between sunset and 10 p.m.

In October 2014, this happens Oct. 8-12. On Oct. 8, Moon rises just after sunset – Full Moon and the total lunar eclipse will have occurred earlier on the same date, before sunrise. Thereafter the Moon rises later each evening. Pick a spot with a good view of the eastern horizon, and enjoy the show. Note the color of the rising Moon, and, if you can observe from the same location each evening, note the time, and the place along your horizon panorama where the Moon rises.

(3) Look for Moon each morning, about one hour before sunrise.

With daylight saving time still in effect in October, this shouldn’t be too much to ask. It might require folks to get up a bit earlier than usual, and to go out to look at the sky for a few minutes before attending to other morning tasks. The dates for Oct. 2014 are Oct. 8 (soon after the lunar eclipse has ended in California) through Oct. 22.

While you’re out, use our morning twilight all-sky chart  to find these bright objects in morning twilight: Jupiter (mag. –2); Sirius (mag. –1.5); Canopus (mag. –0.7), very low in the S for southern Californians, ranking next but for the absorption of its light by our atmosphere. Mercury ranks next after it brightens past mag. 0 on Oct. 28; Arcturus (mag. 0.0), after it emerges late in month; and Capella (+0.1).

Morning planets: Jupiter climbs very high through SE sky in Oct. One week after passing inferior conjunction on Oct. 16 nearly between Earth and Sun, back-lit Mercury emerges S of E as a faint +1.5 mag. object on Oct. 23, and brightens rapidly to mag. –0.6 by month’s end. Mercury reaches greatest elongation Nov. 1 and passes 4° N of Spica on Nov. 4.

Stars: The huge Winter Hexagon reaches its highest position in morning twilight this month. In clockwise order, its stars are Sirius, Procyon, Pollux [and Castor, not quite bright enough to be plotted], Capella, Aldebaran, and Rigel. Betelgeuse is inside the figure, and bright Jupiter and faint Regulus pursue the Hexagon across the sky. Arcturus, Mercury, and Spica, in that order, appear above the eastern horizon in late October.

During the 15 mornings Oct. 8-22, the waning Moon changes from Full low in west on Oct. 8, through Last Quarter phase, half full and 90 degrees west of the Sun on Oct. 15, to a thin crescent old Moon, just risen within 10 degrees south of east on Oct. 22.

An hour before sunup, skies are dark enough to allow viewers to follow the Moon’s changing place against background stars. On Oct. 11 the Moon is 8° south (lower left) of the Pleiades cluster, and on the 12th just 1°-2° above Aldebaran, eye of Taurus.

On Oct. 13, the waning gibbous Moon has moved 14° east of Aldebaran and stands 12° upper right of Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder. On the 14th the Moon stands 2°-3° upper right of a 2nd-mag. star marking the tip of the Bull’s northern horn.

Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

Abrams Planetarium
A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

On Oct. 15, the nearly Last Quarter Moon, just over half full and just over 90° from the Sun, stands nearly equidistant from Procyon, the “Little Dog” star, and Pollux, the brighter of the “Twin” stars of Gemini. On the 17th, the crescent Moon stands 7°-8° upper right of Jupiter.

On Oct. 18, the Moon, a crescent one-quarter full, stands 8°-9° lower right of Jupiter and 6°-7° lower right of Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion. On the next morning, the Moon is 8°-9° below Regulus.

On the morning of Oct. 20, the 10-percent crescent Moon is 20° below Regulus. On the 21st, the 5-percent sliver is just 12° up in E to ESE an hour before sunup.

Finally, on the morning on Oct. 22, the old Moon, less than 2 percent full, is just 2° up an hour before sunrise, and 8° south of due east. A partial solar eclipse occurs on the afternoon of the next day, Thursday, Oct. 23.

Daytime Moon Watch

For both these daytime viewing times, I list only dates when Moon is at least 5 degrees above the horizon and at least 30 degrees from the Sun.

(4) Observe Moon in morning, at start of school day. If that time is 9:00 a.m., then follow the Moon daily from Oct. 11 (88 percent full, low in W to WNW), through Last Quarter phase on Oct. 15, just over half full and more than halfway up to overhead in WSW. Your last easy morning daytime view at that hour might occur on Oct. 20, when the Moon will a 10 percent crescent located 37° upper right of the Sun. After the solar eclipse on Oct. 23, then shift your daytime viewing to:

(5) Mid-afternoon, at end of the school day. In October 2014, the waxing Moon can be followed at 2:30 p.m. during Oct. 26-31. Teachers can arrange a moon-watch as the last activity of the school day, or parents and other child caregivers can adopt it as the first item on the agenda after the students are out of school.

— Resources —

On this month’s eclipses: Two Eclipses in October.

For an overview of this school year, with some activities to start right away see Getting Started in Skywatching.

For a detailed account of sky events for this entire school year Summary of Sky Events for the School Year 2014-2015.

Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets. As stars and planets come and go in morning and evening skies and display beautiful pairings and groupings, students can model these activities with the aid of these four items: Two planet orbit charts, Mercury through Mars and Mercury through Saturn ; a table of data for plotting planets on orbit diagrams, Heliocentric Longitudes of the Planets ; and an activity sheet with 15 questions on star and planet visibility in 2014-2016, CSTA-planets-orbit-chart-activity-2014-16 .

Enjoy the changing sky!

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University. He remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

 

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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