5 Sky Events This Week: Cosmic Bull’s-Eye and Eskimo Nebula

Eskimo composite
This composite image of the Eskimo nebula contains X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra observatory in pink showing the location of million-degree gas near the center of the planetary nebula. Data from the Hubble Space Telescope – colored red, green, and blue – show the intricate pattern of the outer layers of the dying star that have been ejected. Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/IAA-CSIC/N.Ruiz et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI

While Venus shines bright after sunset in the southwest, and Jupiter rises high late nights in the south, the moon dances with planets and stars this week.

Orionid stragglers: If clouds kept you from viewing the peak of the Orionids in the early morning of Monday, October 21, then you can try your luck again in the late evening and into Tuesday’s pre-dawn hours for some of the straggler shooting stars.

Despite the bright gibbous moon drowning out all but the brightest meteors, many may be glimpsed from a dark countryside. The Orionids appear to radiate out from their namesake constellation Orion—easily found in the sky, thanks to its three bright belt stars in a row—rising in the southeast near local midnight.

 

Orionid metoers appear to radiate out from near their namesake constellation Orion, which rises near midnight in the east this time of the year. Credit: Starry Night Software / A.Fazekas
Orionid meteors appear to radiate out from near their namesake constellation Orion, which rises near midnight in the east this time of the year. Credit: Starry Night Software / A.Fazekas

Moon shoots for bull’s-eye: On Tuesday, October 22, early risers get to start their day off at dawn with a close encounter between the waning gibbous moon and Aldebaran—the brightest member of the constellation Taurus.

The red giant star will be only 3 degrees from luna—less than the width of three fingers held at arm’s length.

Mars and the lion’s heart: Before dawn on Wednesday, October 23, and the rest of the week, look a third of the way up the eastern sky for the red planet. About 5 degrees to the upper right of the orange-hued Mars is the blue-white Regulus—the lead star in the constellation Leo, the lion. In ancient times this stellar giant was named Cor Leonis—the lion’s heart.

The color contrast between these two objects is quite impressive, even to the naked eye. As the week progresses, watch the cosmic duo separate as Mars moves along its orbit.

Moon joins Jupiter: Near midnight on Thursday, October 24, and again on Friday, the waning gibbous moon will park itself next to Jupiter. Visible low in the eastern sky, the cosmic duo will appear about 6 degrees apart. From night to night, the moon will drop from the right of the gas giant to below it.

Jupiter and the Eskimo nebula: Starting on Sunday, October 27, and lasting the entire week, the largest planet in the solar system snuggles up to one of the prettiest deep-sky objects—the Eskimo nebula.

Also known as the Clownface, or more formally as NGC 2392, this gas bubble 3,800 light-years from Earth is classified by astronomers as a planetary nebula—a remnant of a dying sunlike star. In small backyard telescopes, even under high magnification, it looks like a tiny, circular, bluish-grey glow surrounding a central star. It’s called the Eskimo nebula by some because of its resemblance to a face in a furry parka, and it’s visible in scopes of at least 6 to 8 inches.

Gemini constellation rises near midnight end of October for mid-latitude observers. Jupiter and the Eskimo nebula  is located within the same 1 degree field of view of small telescopes under high magnification. Credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas
Gemini constellation rises near midnight at the end of October for midlatitude observers. Jupiter and the Eskimo nebula is located within the same 1 degree field of view of small telescopes under high magnification. Credit: Starry Night Software/ A. Fazekas

Look for the tiny nebula by first tracking down its home constellation—Gemini, which rises late at night this time of the year. Jupiter will be off to the lower right of the lead twin stars Castor and Pollux. You can find the Eskimo nebula about 1 degree below Jupiter—a separation equal to two full moon disks side by side.

Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media