Starry Night: Late October 2012

Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in Features

Starry Night: Late October 2012

courtesy EarthSky.org.

by Tristan Radtke

The last half of October plays host to the Orionid meteor shower. The meteors associated with the shower seem to fall from the constellation Orion, but their source is the famous Halley’s Comet, which leaves its rocky trail through the plane of our planet’s orbit once every 75 years. Although the comet will be gone until the later half of the century, the Orionids will certainly return — unfortunately however, this year viewing of the shower will be hampered by the moon, which will be just past first quarter waxing during the shower, which will occur between Oct. 20 and 22, with the peak the evening of Oct. 21. Still, the shower should produce five to 20 meteors per hour this year, and the brightest of them will likely outshine the glare of the moon. To view the Orionids, look to the southeast after 10 p.m. Locate Orion, and locate the Hunter’s club — this is where the majority of the meteors will originate.

The stars

The autumn night sky features the northern sky items, especially the Great Bear (which contains the Big Dipper), as close to the horizon as it ever gets. Ursa Major, the Great Bear, and the constellation Cassiopeia are on opposite sides of an imaginary Ferris wheel that rotates slowly around the pole star, Polaris. Both Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper "point" to Polaris — the two stars of the outermost side of the cup of the dipper and the center point of the Cassiopeia "W" both point toward the pole star, which is much fainter than other stars in the sky. Polaris is the last star in the Little Dipper, in the constellation Ursa Minor, or the Lesser Bear.


The planets

• Mercury: On Oct. 15, Mercury followed the sun quickly into the sunset, but was visible just before setting around 6:30 p.m. By the end of the month, the waning sunlight will bring Mercury back into the evening sky, still setting around 6:30 p.m., but much farther from the setting sun.

• Venus: On Oct. 15, Venus rose around 3:30 a.m. Venus will be the “Morning Star” through the end of the month, rising at 4:15 a.m. on Oct. 31.

• Mars: At mid-month, Mars set around 8:30 p.m. As the month comes to a close, Mars will set around 7:30 p.m.

• Jupiter: On Oct. 15, Jupiter rose at about 8 p.m. By month’s end, it will rise around 7:30 p.m.

• Saturn: Saturn remains in the glare of the sun through the end of October.

• Uranus: Uranus set around 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 15. By Halloween, it will set at 4 a.m.

• Neptune: At mid-month, Neptune set at 2:30 a.m. By the end of the month, it will have moved back further into the evening sky, setting at 1 a.m.

• Pluto: On Oct. 15, Pluto set at about 10 p.m. By the end of the month, Pluto will set at 9 p.m. 

The moon

The moon was new on Oct. 15. It now is waxing, and will reach first quarter on Oct. 23, and full on Oct. 30.

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