WHAT'S UP THIS MONTH - OCTOBER 2017

(Link to What's Up September 2017)

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

Click HERE for a downloadable PDF white chart - (Close PDF file to return here)

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.

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 close to the northern horizon. 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: Saturn (very early evening) with Uranus and Neptune throughout the night .

EXPLORING THE NIGHT SKY THIS MONTH

The Southern Night Sky during October 2017 at 21:00 BST (9:00 pm)

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'.

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) is about to rise 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 is located in Sagittarius so the richest star fields can be found in the constellation along with many of the beautiful and interesting deep sky objects that we seek out. The Open Cluster M11 the Wild Duck Cluster is well worth searching out with a telescope.

The summer constellations are still prominent in the night sky lead by Hercules (the Hunter). 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 . See the ‘SW' point on the horizon on the chart above.

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 (the Queen) .

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 Great Square can be used to judge the condition of the sky for observing. If five or more stars can be seen within the square then the sky should be good enough for some serious observing. If only two or three stars can be seen it should be alright for observing. If no stars can be seen it might be an evening to do something else.

Using the stars of the Great Square as a starting point there are a few interesting objects to search out. From the star Markab at the bottom right corner follow the ‘kinked' line of stars to the right (west) to the star Enif. Using binoculars follow the line up from Enif about the same distance as Enif is from the previous star in the line and a small ‘fuzzy' patch will be seen, this is a nice Globular Cluster M15. From the upper left star Alpheratz follow the lower line of stars in Andromeda to the 2 nd star Mirak. From Mirak move up two stars and to the upper left of the second star is another ‘fuzzy' patch, this is the M31 the Great Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda.

If we continue along the lower line of stars of Andromeda we come to the star called Almach. This is a beautiful double star. It is not a true associated double star the two stars are just a ‘line of sight' double. One star is golden colour and the other more distant star is blue similar to Albirio in Cygnus.

CONSTELLATION OF THE MONTH - CASSIOPEIA

The constellation of Cassiopeia

Cassiopeia is one of the most distinctive and noticeable constellations in the northern sky. This month it is located almost directly overhead. The point directly overhead is called the ‘Zenith' and is marked towards the bottom of the chart above. Cassiopeia is located on the opposite side of the ‘Pole Star Polaris to Ursa Major (the Plough or the Big Dipper in the USA). In northern locations above latitude 34ºN Cassiopeia is visible throughout the year and is therefore a circumpolar constellation and can always be seen somewhere in the sky.

It is named after the vain queen Cassiopeia in Greek mythology, who boasted about her unrivalled beauty. Cassiopeia was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. It is easily recognisable due to its distinctive 'W' shape, formed by five bright stars and is impressive to see.

Cassiopeia is also host to some very interesting stars. At magnitude 2.2, the star Alpha Cassiopeiae, or Schedar, is generally the brightest star in Cassiopeia although it is often outshone by the variable star Gamma (?) Cassiopeiae which has brightened to magnitude 1.6 on occasions.

Cassiopeia hosts some of the most luminous stars known, including the yellow hypergiants Rho Cassiopeiae, V509 Cassiopeiae and the white hypergiant 6 Cassiopeiae which is about 25 times as massive as the Sun and 200,000 times as luminous. These are not marked on the chart above.

The star PZ Cas (not shown above) is an extreme luminous red supergiant star, one of the largest stars (in diameter) currently known with estimates up to 4000 times the Sun's diameter. Its distance from Earth was initially estimated to be around 7,800 light-years but recent studies of the star now estimate its distance to be 9,160 light-years. It has a luminosity of about 250,000 times that of our Sun and an estimated mass of 25 times that of the Sun.

Cassiopeia A is a supernova remnant (A giant star that exploded) and the brightest extra-solar radio source in the sky. Fourteen star systems in Cassiopeia have been found to have exoplanets, one of which is called HR 8832 and is thought to host seven planets. A rich section of the Milky Way runs through Cassiopeia and is hosts a number of open clusters. Messier 52 (M52) is a nice Open cluster comprised of about 200 young stars. It does need a telescope to see and being so high in the sky at the moment responds well to a high magnification.

Messier 52 (N52) an Open Cluster in Cassiopeia

IC 10 is an Irregular Galaxy and is our closest known ‘starburst galaxy' (a galaxy with a very high rate of star formation). It is in fact the only one of its type in our Local Group of galaxies.

THE PLANETS THIS MONTH

MERCURY rises in the east at 05:40 at the beginning of the month and at 06:45 at the end of the month. The smallest planet will be too close to the Sun and will not be visible this month.

VENUS is moving back towards the Sun and will just be visible above the eastern horizon before the Sun rises. It rises at about 03:45 at the beginning of the month and 04:55 by the end of the month. It will be rising an hour before the Sun so will need a clear view towards the eastern horizon before the sky begins to brighten at about 05:30. See the chart below. The sky has been darkened so the positions of the planets and the Sun can be seen.

Venus, Mars and Jupiter in the east after sunrise

MARS will be rising in the east at about 04:00 this is two hours before the Sun rises. The Red Planet appears small at just 3.8 arc-seconds in diameter but is quite bright at magnitude +1.8. Mars will be very difficult to see just above the eastern horizon especially as the sky brightens. See the chart above.

JUPITER is moving into conjunction with the Sun on 26th October so it will not be visible this month. For the rest of this year Jupiter will be in the daytime sky and will not be observable. See the chart above. The sky has been darkened on the chart to show the location of the planets.

Jupiter imaged earlier this year by Chris Dole

SATURN will be giving us our last chance to see it at the beginning of the month as the Sun is setting. The Ringed Planet appears small at 16.0 arc-seconds in diameter but is quite bright at magnitude +0.5. It is now moving towards the western horizon so it will have to be found as soon as it is dark enough because it sets at 20:00. See the chart below.

Chart showing Saturn on 1st October at 19:30

Saturn has been sitting on the Ecliptic this year and because the Ecliptic is positioned low in the south during the summer months Saturn has also been low in the night sky. This means Saturn has been in the thicker, dirtier and more turbulent air close the ground. Consequently the view of Saturn through a telescope has not been good. However the ring system has appeared almost fully open and looking its most impressive. See the image below.

Saturn imaged this year by Chris Dole

Saturn can still be seen at the beginning of October low in the south west as soon as the sky is dark enough after sunset. A lower magnification than usual will be necessary because a higher magnification will cause the image to deteriorate due to the poor ‘seeing' close to the horixon.

URANUS will be in a very good observable position this month as it will be at opposition on 19th October. This means it will be due south at midnight (01:00 BST). It will be quite high in the east soon after the sky is dark. It will be better placed at around 22:00 in the evening. Using a good pair of 10x50 binoculars a slightly fuzzy blue, star like, object can be seen. A telescope at a magnification of 100x will show it as a small blue/green disc.

Uranus and Neptune at about 22:00

NEPTUNE will be visible in the south as soon as the sky is dark. It was at opposition (due south at midnight – 01:00 BST) on 2nd September so 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

The Sun has been quite active over the last couple of months with some very nice sunspots even though the active phase of the Solar Cycle is drawing to a close. During the period over late August and early September Solar observers were surprised to see a magnificent display of sunspots. The surprise was due to the Sun being at Solar Minimum when there should not have been any significant sunspots.

Sunspots on the Sun seen on 3rd September 2017

The Sun does have many cycles in its activity but the most significant is the 11 Year Cycle. This is a periodicity where there is a noticeable increase in solar activity that is particularly evident by the appearance of an increase in the number of Sunspots on the Sun.

Sunspots are caused by the magnetic field of the Sun as it affects the visible surface. Put simply the lines of magnetic force cause a hole to appear and the slightly cooler layer below to become visible. As this lower layer is about 1000°C cooler so it appears less bright and a darker spot appears.

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 17:25 at the beginning and 16:45 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

Full Moon will be on the 5th October

First Quarter will be on 12th October

New Moon will be on 19th October

Last Quarter will be on 27th October

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