WHAT'S UP THIS MONTH - OCTOBER 2018

(Link to What's Up September 2018)

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THESE PAGES ARE INTENDED TO HELP YOU FIND YOUR WAY AROUND THE SKY

The chart above shows the night sky as it appears on 15th October at 21:00 (9 o'clock) in the evening British Summer Time (BST). As the Earth orbits the Sun and we look out into space each night the stars will appear to have moved across the sky by a small amount. Every month Earth moves one twelfth of its circuit around the Sun, this amounts to 30 degrees each month. There are about 30 days in each month so each night the stars appear to move about 1 degree. The sky will therefore appear the same as shown on the chart above at 10 o'clock BST at the beginning of the month and at 8 o'clock BST at the end of the month. The stars also appear to move 15º (360º divided by 24) each hour from east to west, due to the Earth rotating once every 24 hours. British Summer Time ends on 28 th October and Greenwich Mean Time begins.

The centre of the chart will be the position in the sky directly overhead, called the Zenith. First we need to find some familiar objects so we can get our bearings. The Pole Star Polaris can be easily found by first finding the familiar shape of the Great Bear ‘Ursa Major' that is also sometimes called the Plough or even the Big Dipper by the Americans. Ursa Major is visible throughout the year from Britain and is always easy to find. This month it is in the north. Look for the distinctive saucepan shape, four stars forming the bowl and three stars forming the handle. Follow an imaginary line, up from the two stars in the bowl furthest from the handle. These will point the way to Polaris which will be to the north of overhead at about 50º above the northern horizon. Polaris is the only moderately bright star in a fairly empty patch of sky. When you have found Polaris turn completely around and you will be facing south. To use this chart, position yourself looking south and hold the chart above your eyes.

Planets observable this month: Jupiter (early evening) Saturn, Mars, Uranus and Neptune .

EXPLORING THE NIGHT SKY THIS MONTH

The Southern Night Sky during October 2018 at 22:00 BST

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 22:00 BST on 15th October. West is to the right and east to the left. The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith or Nadir and is shown at the centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac. This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations'. See the special on Constellations.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Sagittarius (the Archer), Capricornus (the Goat), Aquarius (the Water Carrier), Piscis (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram) and Taurus (the Bull) rising over the eastern horizon.

Just disappearing over the south western horizon is the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). It is really a southern constellation but we can see the upper part creep along the horizon during the summer. The central bulge of our galaxy (the Milky Way) is located in Sagittarius so the richest star fields can be found in the constellation. Many interesting deep sky objects are here along with the planet Saturn this year.

The summer constellations are still prominent in the night sky lead by Hercules (the strong man). Following Hercules is the Summer Triangle with its three corners marked by the bright stars: Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus, Vega in Lyra, and Altair in Aquila. The Summer Triangle is very prominent and can be used as the starting point to find our way around the night sky. The Milky Way (our Galaxy) flows through the Summer Triangle passing through Cygnus, down to the horizon in Sagittarius .

The Milky Way flows north from the Summer Triangle through the rather indistinct constellation of Lacerta (the Lizard), past the pentagon shape of Cepheus and on through the ‘W' shape of Cassiopeia (a Queen) .

At the top, centre of the chart above is the fairly faint constellation of Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) also called the Little Dipper by the Americans. Although Ursa Minor may be a little difficult to find in a light polluted sky it is one of the most important constellations. This is because Polaris (the ‘Pole' or ‘North Star') is located in Ursa Minor. Polaris is the star that is located at the approximate position in the sky where an imaginary line projected from Earth's North Pole would point to. As the Earth rotates on its axis, the sky appears to rotate around Polaris once every 24 hours. This means Polaris is the only ‘bright' star that appears to remain stationary in the sky as Earth rotates every 24 hours.

To the west of the Summer Triangle is the constellation of Hercules (the strong man). The main feature forming the asterism (shape) of Hercules is the misshapen square at its centre known as the ‘Keystone' due to its resemblance to the central stone of an arch. Located in the right vertical side of the ‘Keystone' is the most impressive ‘Globular Cluster' known as Messier 13 (M13). This can be seen in a modest telescope as a beautiful ball of about a million stars.

To the East of the Summer Triangle is the constellation of Pegasus (the Winged Horse). The main feature of Pegasus is the square formed by the four brightest stars. This asterism (shape) is known as the Great Square of Pegasus. The square is larger than might be expected but once found is easier to find again.

THE CONSTELLATIONS OF PEGASUS AND ANDROMEDA

 

The constellations of Pegasus and Andromeda

The constellations of Pegasus and Andromeda share and are joined at the star Alpheratz. Alpheratz is actually designated as belonging to Andromeda but looks to be more a part of Pegasus as it is required to complete the familiar ‘Great Square of Pegasus'. It is larger than may be expected which sometimes makes it a little difficult to initially identify. However once it has been identified it is easy to find again in a clear dark sky. Also see the wider view charts at the beginning of this What's Up.

The constellation of Pegasus

Pegasus is named after the mythical winged horse and with Andromeda included to provide the wings and a lot of imagination the stars could be said to resemble the flying horse. The square generally is used to represent the body of the horse and the three lines to the west (right) of the stars Scheat and Markab do look a little like the horse's legs.

The square can be used to judge the seeing condition of the night sky. On the chart above about ten stars can be seen inside the square. If this was true in the sky then it would be a very good night for observing the fainter deep sky objects like the globular cluster M15 just off the end of the lower leg of Pegasus. If three to five stars can be seen then conditions will still be good. If fewer or none can be seen then stick to looking at the Moon or planets.

There is a nice Globular cluster in Pegasus. Known as Messier 15 (M15). It is a lovely sight to see in a medium to large telescope.

Messier 15 (M15) a Globular Cluster in Pegasus

To find M15 start at the star Markab, located at the bottom right of the Great Square. Follow the fainter line of stars to the west (right) to the star Baham then North West (up and right) to the star Enif, see the chart above. Continue the imaginary line on for about the same distance to find the fuzzy patch that will be the Globular Cluster M15. See the chart above.

THE CONSTELLATION OF ANDROMEDA

The constellation of Andromeda is host to the only ‘naked eye' Galaxy known as Messier 31 (M31). It is the most distant object that can be seen with our naked eyes (2.4 million light years). It is quite easy to find using binoculars and is well place, high in the east, at this time of year.

The sort of view seen of M31 using binoculars (but more detailed and labelled)

The easiest way to find M31 is to first locate the Great Square of Pegasus. Once the square is found the pointer to Andromeda is the top left star of the square named Alpheratz. Strangely Alpheratz is officially not part of Pegasus but is designated as Alpha (a) Andromedae. From Alpheratz follow the fairly obvious line of stars to the left (east). Locate the second star in the line which is shown as Mirach on the chart above. From Mirach follow a slightly fainter short line of stars to the north (above) Mirach to the second star. Just to the right of this star is the faint fuzzy patch of light that is M31 the Great Andromeda Galaxy. See the images above.

M31 the Great Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda imaged by Hubble

The image above shows M31 imaged through the Hubble Space Telescope and is much clearer than can be hoped to be seen with the naked eye. However a pair of binoculars will enable the galaxy to be seen. A small telescope will show a cigar shaped hazy patch with a brighter spot in the middle. Larger telescopes will show it more clearly but photographic imaging is required to reveal its true nature as shown in the previous column.

The view of M31 using a small telescope

At the end of the lower line of stars that constitute the constellation of Andromeda is the star Almach or (Almaach). This is a very interesting and beautiful star to see through a telescope. It is a beautiful example of a pair of stars that are not physically related. They are thought to be at different distances but just appear to be in the same ‘line of sight' from Earth. The apparently brighter golden coloured star is thought to be located much nearer to us than the apparently fainter blue star. The blue star is in fact a Blue Giant a very hot and powerful star that is many thousands of times brighter than the golden star.

The beautiful ‘line of sight' double star called Almach in Andromeda .

THE SOLAR SYSTEM SEPTEMBER 2018

MERCURY was in conjunction with the Sun on 21st September and is still too close to the Sun to be seen. It actually rises an hour after the Sun and is therefore in the bright morning sky. See the chart below.

Mercury and Venus in the east at 10:00

VENUS will be in Inferior conjunction (passing in front of the Sun) on 26th October. Throughout October it will be too close to the Sun to be seen.

 

MARS will be well placed this month for observing but is very low over the southern horizon in turbulent and smoggy air. The Red Planet passed through ‘Opposition' on 27th July so is still relatively close to Earth. It still appears fairly large at 13.5 arc-seconds in diameter and is still very bright at magnitude -1.80.

Mars, Saturn and Jupiter at 20:00

JUPITER is moving into conjunction with the Sun on 26th November so it is beginning to be difficult to observe low in the west. See the chart above.

SATURN is well positioned in the south but low in the sky and in turbulent, smoggy air close to the horizon. A small telescope will show the ring system but a larger telescope will be required to show it well.

URANUS will be in a good observable position and will be at opposition on 23rd October when it will be due south at midnight (01:00 BST). Uranus will be quite high in the south east as soon as the sky is dark, see the following chart. A good pair of 9x50 binoculars will reveal a slightly fuzzy blue, star like, object. A telescope at a magnification of 100x will show it as a small blue/green disc.

Uranus, Neptune and Mars at 20:00 BST

NEPTUNE was at opposition (due south at midnight – 01:00 BST) on 7th September and was at its best position for observation this year. A telescope will be needed to show Neptune as a small blue/green disc using a magnification of 100x but it is small and difficult to find.

THE SUN

There may still be the odd small sunspots even though the active phase of the Solar Cycle is now over.

The Sun rises at 06:00 at the beginning of the month and at 06:45 by the end of the month. It will be setting at 17:35 at the beginning and 16:50 by the end of the month. Sunspots and other activity on the Sun can be followed live and day to day by visiting the SOHO website at: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/ .

THE MOON PHASES IN OCTOBER

Last Quarter will be on 2nd October

New Moon will be on the 9th October

First Quarter will be on 16th October

Full Moon will be on 24th October

Last Quarter will be on 31st October

METEOR SHOWERS THIS MONTH

Draconid Meteor Shower peaks around the 7th and 8th October. The best time to view the Draconids is just after the Sun sets and looking directly overhead.

Orionid Meteor Shower peaks in the early morning October 21st . The best time to view the Orionids is from just after midnight through to dawn and to look high to the south east. Orion will be rising in the south east.

 

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