EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY: OCTOBER 2019
Welcome to Eyes on the Night Sky for October, where we will select the best targets to observe with the unaided eyes, binoculars and telescopes. October is a great month to stargaze, with darkness falling earlier; the sun sets at around 18:54 at the beginning of the month and 16:49 at the end, as the clocks go back one hour on 27th October at 02:00. To see the night sky at its darkest and the Milky Way at its best, wait until around two hours after sunset.
The Full Moon is on 13th October and the New Moon on 28th October.
Another chance to catch the Zodiacal Light
For those who want to see the magical Zodiacal light, there’s still a chance to catch it before the morning twilight between 1st and 12th October.
Something for the eyes only
For the unaided eyes, there is a chance to see a meteor shower. In the early hours of 22nd October, the Orionid Meteor Shower will reach its peak at 25 ‘shooting stars’ per hour. Although not an impressive number, these meteors rip through the sky, leaving persistent trains (which are ionised gas trails). Keep an eye on the sky a few days before as you will see a few meteors before the peak. The Moon is in its waning crescent phase, so its light will not interfere. This meteor shower occurs when the Earth on its orbit around the Sun, passes through the remnants of Halley’s Comet and from our perspective, the meteors radiant is close to the red giant Betelgeuse.
See the third largest Galaxy in our locality
The Triangulum Galaxy (M33) is a challenge for binoculars for rural/suburban skies and darker. This is a massive galaxy; in fact the third largest in the Local Group comprising 54 galaxies. The largest is the Andromeda Galaxy, around 15 degrees directly above the Triangulum Galaxy (slightly larger than a fist’s width held out at arm’s length). The second largest galaxy is the one we reside in; the Milky Way! Take a look at the stunning image below, that was taken by The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.
The Triangulum Galaxy has low surface brightness, making it a challenge to find in binoculars. If you cannot find it, try to locate the incredible Andromeda Galaxy and slowly scan your binoculars down until you see a faint smudge. It’s great practice to improve your observing skills and they improve with practice. It looks quite impressive through 10x50 binoculars in a dark sky.
A challenge for those who have telescopes
A telescope challenge is the Helix nebula (NGC 7293) in the constellation of Aquarius. This is one of the closest planetary nebulae to Earth. Planetary nebulae are created when a star reaches the end of its life, evolving into a red giant and shedding its outer layers. Those layers, or gasses, are lit by the star’s central core. Discovered in 1824 by Karl Ludwig Hardwig, it is very similar in appearance to the Ring Nebula (M57).
This nebula has also been known as the ‘Eye of God’ or the ‘Eye of Sauron’, as seen in the Lord of the Rings movies. It has been found through 4 inch telescopes and upwards and though binoculars on a good, clear night in a light pollution-free sky.