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.
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.
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?