Status Report

The Sky This Week 2003 October 3 – 10

By SpaceRef Editor
October 6, 2003
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The Moon brightens the crisp autumn nights this week, gliding through the star-poor region of the fall constellations. Full Moon occurs on October 10th at 3:27 am Eastern Daylight Time. The October Full Moon is popularly known as the Hunter’s Moon, and it shares similar sky geometry to last month’s Harvest Moon. In high northern latitudes the times of Moonrise on successive nights around the time of Full Moon differ by only a few minutes. The rising orb casts its pale glow over the stubble of the harvested fields, allowing hunters extra time to pursue game into the lengthening nights. Look for the Moon near Mars on the evening of the 6th.

The arrival of October brings about the amateur astronomer’s favorite time of the year. The skies are generally clear, the first frost has taken care of the summer crop of mosquitoes, and the rapidly lengthening nights bring a chance to say goodbye to summer’s constellations and welcome the bright stars of winter. In between, the dim stars of the fall sky hide a treasure trove of distant galaxies, including our nearest extragalactic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. Even the light of the waxing Moon can’t completely obscure the soft glow of this mighty star metropolis, which is located a few degrees northeast of the upper left star in the Great Square of Pegasus. Binoculars will reveal a small swath of light, described by a 17th Century observer as resembling ìthe light of a candle shining through hornî.

A far less subtle glow hangs below the Great Square in the form of Mars. The red planet is now lagging far in the wake of the Earth, dropping another half-million miles behind us each day. Nonetheless, his apparent diameter is still a generous 20 arcseconds, and his magnitude is still an impressive -2, so he’s still a good target for the small telescope. Mars has resumed direct motion against the stars, so for the next several months he’ll appear to gather speed and climb northward toward the winter constellations.

Late nights and early mornings bring the full glory of the winter stars into view, and perched among them is a yellowish interloper. The planet Saturn may be found among the stars of Gemini, along a direct line connecting Betelgeuse and Rigel, the bright stars of Orion, with Castor and Pollux, the Twin Stars of Gemini

The gathering morning twilight finds another planet climbing into the eastern sky. Jupiter holds court under the belly of Leo, the Lion. By the week’s end he is equal in brightness to ruddy Mars, and for the remainder of the year the giant planet will outshine his ruddy rival. Old Jove creeps a little higher with each passing morning, and by the year’s end he’ll be lurking in the late evening sky.

SpaceRef staff editor.