In the Sky This Month

In the Sky This Month

A giant mythological soap opera stretches up the eastern half of the sky on October nights, encompassing five major constellations: Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Cepheus, Cetus, and Perseus. In the tale, Cassiopeia, queen of Ethiopia, claimed that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. The nymphs complained to the god Poseidon, who sent the sea monster Cetus to ravage the country. To save his people, King Cepheus chained his daughter Andromeda at the seashore as a sacrifice. At the last second, though, she was rescued by Perseus, who flashed the snake-topped head of Medusa at Cetus, turning the monster to stone.

October 17: Moon and Mars

Look for the planet Mars to the left of the Moon as darkness falls this evening. It looks like a bright orange star. Mars will stand even closer to the Moon as they set, after midnight.

October 18: More Moon and Mars

The planet Mars stands to the right of the Moon at nightfall. Although it has lost a good bit of its luster since the summer, it remains one of the half-dozen brightest objects in the night sky, shining like a brilliant orange star.

October 19: Orionid Meteors

The Orionid meteor shower will be at its best this weekend. The Moon makes a pest of itself, though, especially on Sunday night, when the shower should reach its peak. It leaves a little better viewing window tonight and tomorrow night, though.

October 20: G Stars

Under a dark sky, far from city lights, the eye can see thousands of stars, yet only a few are like the Sun. Two of them are in view by about 10 p.m. 51 Pegasi is in the south, well above the Moon. At the same time, Tau Ceti is low in the southeast.

October 21: Gibbous Moon

The Moon stands almost due east at sunset. It’s in its “waxing gibbous” phase. “Gibbous” means that sunlight illuminates more than half of the hemisphere facing Earth, while “waxing” means that a greater percentage of the surface is lit each night.

October 22: Uranus at Opposition

The planet Uranus is putting in its best showing of the year. It lines up opposite the Sun, so it rises around sunset and is in view all night. It’s brightest for the year, too, although you still need binoculars to see it.

October 23: Hunter’s Moon

The Moon will be full the next couple of nights, as it passes opposite the Sun in our sky. October’s full Moon is generally known as the Hunter’s Moon. As the full Moon after the Harvest Moon, its light helped hunters scour the barren fields for game.