Celestial: October brings celestial wonders
Autumn officially arrived Thursday, and with it, come cool, clear fall evenings, perfect for stargazing. The sun is setting well before 7 p.m. now, so stargazing can commence much earlier than during the summer months. Following are some of the celestial highlights for the upcoming month of October that you can enjoy without any optical aid, though binoculars almost always help to enhance the view.
• Oct. 3 — The slender crescent moon will appear very close to the Venus, also known as the Evening Star, at dusk. Look low in the southwestern sky between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m.
• Oct. 5 — The crescent moon forms a tight triangle with the ringed planet, Saturn, to the left of the moon, and the red giant star, Antares, below the moon. Look in the southwestern sky between 7:30 and 7:45 p.m.
• Oct. 7 — Mars, the Red Planet, passes remarkably close (1/4-degree) to the star Kaus Borealis. That’s the star at the top of the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius. Binoculars will provide a spectacular view of this close conjunction. Look about one hand span east (right) of the moon about 8 p.m.
• Oct. 7 — The moon passes about one fist-width above Mars. Look south between 7:30 and 8 p.m.
• Oct. 15 — Two big events coincide, though one prevents us from seeing the other. The dazzling full Hunter’s Moon will rise in the eastern sky about 6:30 p.m. and shine all night beside the faint and distant planet, Uranus, which reaches its closest point to Earth tonight for the year. Ordinarily visible, though barely, to the unaided eye on a moonless night, we’ll have to wait a few days for the moon to get out of the way to spy the seventh planet.
• Oct. 18 For much of the eastern and central United States, the waning gibbous moon will eclipse the bright star Aldebaran. Aldebaran is the bright orange star that marks the eye of Taurus, the Bull, in the sky. From Denver eastward, the star will actually be eclipsed for a while before popping back out into view, but folks living in Northwest Colorado will get to see a very near miss. Aldebaran will seem to just graze the northern edge of the moon, about 11:45 p.m. Binoculars will definitely help reveal the star when close to the bright edge of the moon.
Oct. 20 — Bits of Halley’s Comet will rain down onto Earth after midnight as part of the annual Orionid Meteor Shower. On a dark and moonless night, you could expect to see about 20 shooting stars per hour at the peak, but the gibbous moon will be sitting atop Orion and effectively drowning out the smaller meteors. Still, there will be occasional bright ones to make you ooh and ahh.
Oct. 21 — The dwarf planet Ceres reaches its closest point to Earth for the year, 1.9 astronomical units away. Ceres is just below naked-eye visibility in the constellation of Cetus, the Whale, so you will need binoculars or a small telescope to see and enjoy this event.
Oct. 28 — If you are an early riser, look for the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon very close to the brilliant planet Jupiter low in the eastern sky about 6:30 a.m.
Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College’s Steamboat Springs Campus. His “Celestial News” column appears weekly in Steamboat Today. Check out Westlake’s astrophotography website at jwestlake.com.
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The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch into space Dec. 18, and this week, Steamboat is offered a unique opportunity to meet and ask questions of one of its mechanical engineers, Lana Klingemann.