Friday, October 1, 2010

October Skies Bring Comet Sighting and More

By Jon Spargo
New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club

This month another comet will work its way, west to east, across the northern sky. Comet Hartley 2 (periodic comet 103P) will require binoculars to be seen. On October 1st it will be found passing 1.5 degrees south of Alpha Cassiopeia. On the 9th it will pass just south of the famous double star cluster in Perseus. On the 19th it passes just south of the bright star Capella. For November and December maps go to:
Remember the Deep Impact spacecraft that hit comet Temple 1 in 2005? Well, the main part of the spacecraft is still functioning and NASA has redirected it to fly by Hartley 2 on November 4 and take pictures of the comet’s nucleus. You can use the same link as above to check on the progress of that mission.
Venus has entered its crescent phase and at magnitude -4.8 is a bright as it will get. Soon to disappear from the evening sky it will be a great object to view through binoculars as it approaches the western horizon early in the evening.
Mars will also disappear into the glow of sunset by the end of the month. Look for it a few degrees above Venus. At magnitude +1.5 binoculars will be a must.
Jupiter will continue to dominate the night sky with pale blue Uranus lurking nearby. For most of the month Uranus will be two to three degrees west of Jupiter. Binoculars or a small telescope should easily reveal the small blue ball of the 7th planet.
Saturn makes its appearance again in the pre dawn sky. By the middle of the month it will have climbed high enough to be easily visible in the morning sky about an hour before sunrise. As an added bonus, since Saturn is now on the far side of the Earth’s orbit, it’s beautiful rings will now be opening up to give us a great view.
The Moon will be new on the 7th, 1st quarter on the 14th, full on the 22nd and last quarter on the 30th. The waning crescent Moon can be found near the eastern horizon on the 4th, 5th and 6th, with tiny brilliant Mercury just peeking above the horizon about a half hour before sunrise. Looking to the southwest on the 9th, the new crescent Moon will be found near the horizon, bracketed by Mars just above and Venus just below. Binoculars may be needed to see this trio as it happens about 20 minutes after sunset and just before Venus sets.
Looking east-southeast on the 19th the Moon will be found about 6 degrees above Jupiter. From the 24th through the 27th, the Moon works its way past the Pleiades and Hyades (Taurus) clusters. On the 25th it will be just below and very near to the Pleiades.
Finally, I would like to remind everybody about the upcoming Enchanted Skies Star Party. It will be held here in Socorro from October 6th through the 9th. There is an exciting line up of events this year which you can learn more about by visiting
Clear Skies!

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