October 2011 Sky Guide PDF Print E-mail

This page is dedicated to the practical observer including :

Observing highlights
By Neill McKeown

Have a look for these objects below and let us know about them on the NIAAS Forum

OBSERVING GUIDE

(Please note all times are ST unless otherwise stated and are based on an observing location of Belfast and covers the month of October) 

The Sun

At the start of the month, the Sun rises at 07:25 and sets at 19:00. By month's end, it rises at 07:25 UT and sets at 16:50 UT.

 

The Planets

Mercury, Venus and Saturn are not visible this month. Saturn is at conjunction on the 13th.

Mars moves from Cancer into Leo during the month and is a morning object. It rises at 01:20 at the start of the month and at 00:05 UT by month's end. It brightens from mag +1.3 to mag +1.1 during the month and appears to pass in front of M44 – The Beehive Cluster on the mornings of the 1st and 2nd.

Jupiter is an evening object this month and is opposition on the 29th. It can be found in Aries and rises at 19:50 at the start of the month and during daylight hours by month's end. It brightens from mag -2.8 to mag -2.9 during the month.

Uranus is an evening object this month. It can be found in Pisces, SE of the Circlet asterism. It can be located half way between Omega (ω) Piscium (mag +4.0) and Iota (ι) Ceti (mag +3.5). It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 04:00 UT by month's end. It maintains its brightness at mag +5.7 during the month. Don't expect to see much detail - it will be like a green-blue star.

Neptune is an evening object and can be found in Aquarius, near to Iota (ι) Aquarii (mag +4.3). It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 00:40 UT by month's end. It fades from mag +7.8 to mag +7.9 during the month. You'll see even less detail than on Uranus: It will appear like a faint bluish star.

The Moon

The first quarter moon is on the 4th with the full moon on the 12th. The last quarter moon is on the 20th with the new moon on the 26th.

On the evening of the 7th, the waxing gibbous moon lies to the N of Neptune at around 21:00.

On the evening of the 10th, the waxing gibbous moon lies to the N of Uranus at around 21:00.

On the evening of the 13th, the waning gibbous moon lies 7° to the NE of Jupiter at around 21:00.

On the evening of the 14th, the waning gibbous moon lies to the W of M45 – The Pleiades at around 21:00. At the same time on the following evening, it lies to the S of the open cluster.

On the evening of the 17th, the waning gibbous moon lies 5° to the W of M35 at around 23:00.

On the morning of the 21st, the waning crescent moon lies to the S of M44 – The Beehive Cluster and to the W of Mars at around 02:00.

On the morning of the 22nd, the waning crescent moon lies to the S of Mars and W of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at around 04:00.

Meteors

The best time to observe meteor showers is when the moon is below the horizon; otherwise its bright glare limits the number you will see especially the fainter ones. Below is a guide to this month's showers.

There is a possible Draconid outburst on the 8th which is predicted to occur around 21:00. However the timing for this event is uncertain and it is best to look as soon as darkness falls. The predicted ZHR is 400, however the presence of a waxing gibbous moon in Aquarius will reduce the number of meteors visible and it is best to keep the moon blocked out by a fence or hedge etc and to look NW where the radiant is visible as soon as darkness falls. The meteors are typically slow and faint and it is unknown how long this event will last for and may only last for a short time.

The Orionids peak on the morning of the 22nd with a ZHR of 25. The radiant rises at around 01:00 that morning with a waning crescent moon rising at around 02:00 in Leo causing interference.

There are additional minor showers this month, details of which can be found at http://meteorshowersonline.com/calendar.html or http://www.imo.net/calendar/2011

Asteroids

Asteroid (1036) Ganymed is at opposition on the 29th and will be mag +8.3, lying 3° NW of Jupiter. It lies 2° W of the planet at month's end. It heads S during the month, starting in Andromeda. It then heads into Triangulum mid month and then into Aries. On the 16th it lies to the E of Mothallah (Alpha (α) Trianguli, mag +3.4), by the 21st it lies 1° W of Hamal (Alpha (α) Arietis, mag +2.0) and on 23rd it lies to the E of Sheratan (Beta (β) Arietis, mag +2.0).

Finder charts are available at www.rasnz.org.nz in the source list below.

Comets

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakov is a morning comet in Leo heading E during the month. It lies S of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) on the morning of the 1st and to the W of Sigma (σ) Leonis (mag +4.0) on morning of 16th. It is currently around mag +7 and expected to peak around this brightness during the month. It is visible from around 05:00 at the start of the month and from around 03:00 by month's end.

Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) is in Hercules in October, heading W during the month. It is visible as soon as darkness falls and it is currently around mag +7 with a predicted peak of mag +6 in the new year.

Finder charts and further information about the above comet and other fainter comets can be found at www.aerith.net , http://cometchasing.skyhound.com , http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ , http://kometen.fg-vds.de/fgk_hpe.htm and www.rasnz.org.nz in the source list below.

Deep Sky

On the deep sky front this month, galaxies M81 and M82 can be observed in Ursa Major. In Lyra – M57 – The Ring Nebula can be observed and in Vulpecula – M27 – The Dumbbell Nebula can be found. In Andromeda, M31 – The Andromeda galaxy can be observed along with its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. In Perseus, there is the open cluster M34 and the excellent Double Cluster – NGC 869 and 884. In Triangulum, there is the galaxy M33. Auriga reappears with its three open clusters M36, M37 and M38 as does Taurus with the excellent Pleiades – M45 and the Hyades. Orion returns to our skies with M42 – The Great Orion Nebula along with Gemini with the open cluster M35.

General Notes

Always keep an eye out for Aurorae. On the morning of the 30th at 2am, the clocks go back one hour and summer time ends. Other interesting naked eye phenomena to look out for include the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein. Both are caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles which are present in the solar system. The Zodiacal Light can be seen in the West after evening twilight has disappeared or in the East before the morning twilight. The best time of year to see the phenomenon is late-Feb to early-April in the evening sky and September/October in the morning sky - it's then that the ecliptic, along which the cone of the zodiacal light lies, is steepest in our skies. The Gegenschein can be seen in the area of the sky opposite the sun. To view either, you must get yourself to a very dark site to cut out the light pollution. When trying to observe either of these phenomena, it is best to do so when the moon is below the horizon. A new appendix has been added explaining some of the more technical terms used in the guide.

Clear Skies

Neill McKeown

Information Sources Used

www.skyviewcafe.com - Used for the Sun and Planets section. Also partly used for the Moon Section 

Sky at Night Magazine Observing Guide and CD

www.aerith.net and http://cometchasing.skyhound.com – Used for the Comet Section for information and finder charts 

http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ - BAA and SPA Comet page

http://kometen.fg-vds.de/fgk_hpe.htm - German Comet page

http://www.rasnz.org.nz – Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand website – good for asteroids

BAA Handbook

Stardust Magazine

Sky Guide 2010 – South Dublin Astronomical Society

www.heavens-above.com – For the latest ISS passes, Iridium Flares and Shuttle launches

www.irishastronomy.org – Irish Federation of Astronomy Societies Website

www.stronge.org.uk – Excellent weather site including Space Weather

www.irishastro.org.uk – Irish Astronomical Association website

www.eaas.co.uk – Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society

 

Appendix

The ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate is the number of meteors an observer would see in one hour under a clear, dark sky with a limiting apparent magnitude of 6.5 and if the radiant of the shower were in the zenith. The rate that can effectively be seen is nearly always lower and decreases as the radiant is closer to the horizon. The Zenith is the overhead point in the sky. 

The radiant is the point in the sky, from which (to a planetary observer) meteors appear to originate, i.e. the Perseids, for example, are meteors which appear to come from a point within the constellation of Perseus. When the radiant is quoted as “circumpolar”, it is never below the horizon and visible all night, otherwise the times quoted are when the constellation in which the radiant lies rises above the horizon in the East.

A fireball is defined by the International Astronomical Union as a meteor brighter than any of the planets, i.e. magnitude -4 or brighter. The International Meteor Organisation alternatively defines it as a meteor which would have a magnitude of -3 or brighter at the zenith.

The ° symbol in the guide is that for degrees. A degree is two full moon widths to give an idea for judging any distances quoted in the guide.

An asterism is a collection of stars seen in Earth's sky which form simple patterns which are easy to identify, i.e. the Big Dipper. They can be formed from stars within the same constellation or by stars from more than one constellation. Like the constellations, they are a line of sight phenomenon and the stars whilst visible in the same general direction, are not physically related and are often at significantly different distances from Earth.

Mag is short for magnitude which is the measure of an object’s brightness. The smaller the number, the brighter the object. The brightest object in the sky is the Sun at mag -26, the full moon is mag -12 and Venus the brightest planet is mag -4. The brightest stars are mag -1. If there is a 1 mag difference between two objects – there is a difference in brightness of a factor of 2.5 between the two objects. For example the full moon is eight magnitudes brighter than Venus on average which means it is 1,526 times brighter than Venus. Objects down to mag +6 can be seen with the naked eye under very dark skies.

Local time is always quoted in the guide and this means for November – February – universal time (UT)/GMT is used and for April to September – daylight savings time (DST, = GMT+1). For the months of March and October when the clocks go forward/back respectively, both times will be used and attention should be paid to any times at the end of these months for that change.

Deep Sky Objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters are classified in catalogues such as the Messier catalogue for objects like M44 – M for Messier. Another example of a catalogue would the New General catalogue whose objects have the prefix NGC. There are links for websites to both catalogues in the section above.



The Planets

From Earth - Mercury and Venus are the inner planets in the solar system and Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are the outer planets. Below is a short guide as to how both the inner and outer planets move around the sun. The above pictorial guide should hopefully help in this.

The Inner Planets

These are best seen when at Greatest Eastern/Western elongation and are not visible when at either Inferior/Superior conjunction. Greatest Eastern elongation is when the inner planet is at its furthest point east from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the evening sky in the West after sunset, Western elongation is when its at its furthest point west from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the morning sky in the East before sunset. Inferior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is between the Sun and the Earth. Superior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.

From our Northerly latitudes, the ecliptic, along which the planets move, lies at a very shallow angle to the horizon after sunset in the autumn and before sunrise in the spring. This means that any of the planets will be difficult to see when fairly close to the Sun in the evening sky in the autumn, or in the morning sky in the spring. In particular, Mercury is more or less invisible from here when at Eastern elongation in the autumn, or at Western elongation in the spring, because it lies so close to the horizon and is never above the horizon except in daylight or bright twilight.

The normal cycle for an inner planet is Superior Conjunction – Greatest Eastern Elongation – Inferior Conjunction – Greatest Western Elongation - Superior Conjunction. After superior conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible in the evening sky after a period of time. It then moves past the point of Greatest Eastern Elongation and moves back towards the Sun as seen from Earth until a point when it is not visible and at Inferior Conjunction. After this the planet appears in the morning sky for a time, before again slipping into the Sun’s glare as seen from Earth. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet’s closeness to the Sun, i.e. Mercury completes the above cycle in around 4 months. 

The Outer Planets

These are best seen when at opposition and are not visible when at conjunction. Opposition occurs when the earth is between the sun and the outer planet. It is the best time to observe them because the planet is visible all through the night and it is due South and at its highest at about midnight. The planet is also at its closest point in its orbit to Earth – making it appear brighter. Conjunction occurs when the outer planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.
If the planet is at or near it furthest point South along the ecliptic, then it won’t get very high in the sky even at opposition – just as the Sun never gets high in the sky in midwinter. This happens when opposition occurs near midsummer when the planet is opposite the Sun in the sky and in midsummer the Sun is high, so the planet will be low. The opposite of course applies in winter.
The normal cycle for an outer planet is Conjunction – Western Quadrature – Opposition – Eastern Quadrature - Conjunction. After conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible again. The planet from this point on rises earlier and earlier in the morning sky and eventually becomes visible in the evening sky. At Western Quadrature it is at its highest at sunrise and by opposition it is in the same position by midnight. By Eastern Quadrature, it is past its best and is at its highest at sunset, meaning it is rising in daytime and setting earlier and earlier until a point when it sets too close to the Sun as seen from Earth and is no longer visible. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet’s closeness to the Sun, i.e. Jupiter completes the above cycle in around 13-14 months.


ISS Passes

For detailed sightings information and sky charts, check out Heavens Above or Calsky .

Iridium Flares

Every night there are a number of Iridium flares of varying brightness, some can be up to Mag-8 which are very impressive to watch. Check out Heavens Above or Calsky for the latest predictions.