As the nights get longer and the clouds get thicker, we enter the final month of official UK International Year of Astronomy, 2009, activities, making it as good a time to get some observing in as can be. As ever, this post is illustrated with a few sky charts showing midnight on the first, last and fifteenth day of the month. The dots represent brighter stars, green circles are star clusters, nebulae, galaxies and the like and the very brightest stars, the Moon and the planets are named when they appear. Sky charts provided using Stellarium.
The Moon will be grazing the Pleiades on the evening of the 7th and occulting the 5.5 magnitude star 36 T-Tauri on the morning of the 8th at around 6:10am. The star HIP 048734, magnitude 5.93, will be occulted on the 18th, but not for Cumbrian viewers as the line of sight is just below Morecambe Bay, at 4:28am.
The Draconid meteor shower will be active from the 6th-10th of the month, peaking on the 8/9. This is not expected to be a particularly active shower and the Gibbous Moon will affect visibility. Look towards Hercules for the radiant. The Orionid meteor shower, with a radiant in Orion, is expected to be much better, peaking on the 21st of the month. The hourly rate is expected to be around 30 meteors, one every couple of minutes.
Jupiter remains the brightest thing in the twilight skies. Shining at a slightly reduced magnitude of -2.5, the giant planet rises to an altitude of 23 degrees at the moment. This rather low altitude means it is more difficult than otherwise to observe details, but nevertheless a small telescope will reveal the major features. Even in binoculars, the four Galilean moons can be seen. On the 10th of October at 9:44pm BST, Io will eclipse Europa. On the 16th at 10:10pm BST, Europa will be eclipsed again, this time by Ganymede. On the 26th, Jupiter will lie close to the Moon. Best times for seeing the Great Red Spot are: 2nd, 9:38pm BST; 4th, 11:17pm; 5th, 7:08pm; 7th, 8:47pm; 9th, 10:25pm; 12th, 7:55pm; 14th, 9:34pm.
Saturn has reappeared in the morning skies and by the end of the month will be rising three hours before the Sun, shining at magnitude 1.1 (dimmer than usual due to the lack of good reflection from the rings, which are still close to edge on). A small telescope should reveal its largest moon Titan appearing from behind Saturn at around 7am on the 14th. Around the 10th, Saturn, Mercury and Venus line up in the sky. On the 16th, although they have moved apart, they will be joined by the waning crescent Moon.
Uranus, at magnitude 5.9, rises at a good time to get a good altitude by midnight. As is it past opposition, it will head closer and closer to sunset, lying just below the constellation of Pisces. Never quite a naked eye object in Kendal’s skies, it is best to check on the planet’s exact position before making an attempt to see it. It is a relatively bright object in even smaller telescopes or binoculars. A new Moon on the 18th gives a good chance to see it in darker than usual skies.
Neptune is magnitude 7.9 and can be found somewhere closer to Jupiter than Uranus.
Mercury reaches its best opportunity to be viewed of the year on the 6th of October. Rising in morning skies a good fifteen degrees at greatest elongation, as well as participating in a line up with Saturn and Venus, the elusive inner planet will be in our field of view for the first half of the month. Like Venus and the Moon, Mercury undergoes phases and will be shining at just over a half Mercury on the 6th.
Venu, the third participant in the line-up, will be vanishing into the morning skies by the end of the month.
Mars is getting more and more prominent, rising before midnight by the middle of the month. Its angular size starts the month at 6.8 and rising, making features visible to larger telescopes. Mars will be closest to the Moon on the 12th.
A few things outside the solar system
The Andromeda Galaxy, M31 is an easy target below Cassiopeia, showing good detail in even small instruments (even a blur with the naked eye). The Orion Nebula is a morning sight, rising after Andromeda and the Pleiades have reached good altitudes.
The Ring Nebula, M57 lies in the constellation of Lyra, between the stars gamma and beta Lyra. Lyra is also notable for the bright star Vega. The constellation lies to the west at sunset at the beginning of the month.
The Milky Way is a vast arch just to the East of Lyra, stretching across the sky. If you’re lucky enough to have a dark clear night, then it may be visible in the very darkest hours, looking rather like a broken thin cloud. This is our view towards the centre of our galaxy.
Lying along the Milky Way to the south is Cygnus the swan. Two nice sights can be seen topping and tailing the swan. The star representing its head, Albireo, is a well contrasting double star, with a bright yellow star besides a dimmer blue-green one. At the tail end, up and to the left of the tail star Deneb are a couple of clusters visible in binoculars – the North American Nebula and the Penguin Nebula, both named for what they appear to look like.
The Usual Stuff
If you want to watch satellites flaring or passing in the sky (even sometimes during the day), then go to Heavens Above to get times and directions. If you need assistance in deciding where things are in the sky, why not install the free program Stellarium, which does all the work for you? Finally, to avoid the dreaded clouds, Met Check gives a quick forecast and the Met satellites or other satellites can be used to track breaks in the cloud.
Stuart Atkinson and the Eddington Society will be hosting a Jupiter Watch at Abbot Hall Park on Friday the 16th, from 7pm onwards. This is part of his contribution to the International Year of Astronomy, 2009. On Saturday the 10th from Midday–3pm, there will also be The Great Kendal Solar System Scale Model at Kendal Castle.
From the evening of the 26th of October, Newbury Astronomical Society will be running a world-wide twitter #Moonwatch. Follow @NewburyAS for further information. It is also the UK Autumn Jupiter watch and Moonwatch weeks on the 10th-23rd and the 24th of October – 1st of November, respectively.
Events up and down the country are available from the IYA2009 events page. Plus why not pop along to the Eddington Society, which meets at Kendal Museum on the first Monday of the month? The meeting in October will be a bring your own telescope night, with contributions from the audience. In addition, the Eddington Society and Kendal Museum exhibition Our Amazing Universe runs until January.
Don’t forget to check back here and on my twitter account for the latest astronomical events in this area.