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OBSERVING GUIDE (Please note all times are ST unless otherwise stated and are based on the location of Belfast and covers October)

The Sun

At the start of the month, the Sun rises at 07:30 and sets at 19:00. By month's end, it rises at 07:25 UT and sets at 16:50 UT.

The Planets

Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation on the 26th, but is not visible this month.  

Venus is visible in the morning skies this month. At the start of the month, it rises at 03:25 and by month’s end rises at 03:55 UT. It fades from mag -4.1 to mag -4.0 during the month. It passes within 8 arcminutes (1/4 of the width of the full moon) of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) on the morning of the 3rd.

Mars is not visible this month.

Jupiter is visible in the evening sky this month. At the start of the month, it rises at 21:20 and by month’s end rises at 18:20 UT. It brightens from mag -2.5 to mag-2.7 during the month.

Saturn is at conjunction on the 25th and is not visible this month.
 
Uranus is visible as an evening object this month in Pisces. It is visible as soon as darkness falls during the month and sets at 04:20 UT by month’s end. At the start of the month, it lies 8° to the SE of Omega (ω) Piscium (mag +4.0) and 20 arcminutes W of 44 Piscium (mag +5.7). It lies to the E of the Circlet asterism and maintains its brightness at mag +5.7 during the month.
 
Neptune is visible as an evening object this month in Aquarius and is visible as soon as darkness falls during the month.  It sets at 00:55 UT by month’s end and fades from mag +7.8 to mag +7.9 during the month. At the start of the month, it lies less than 3° to the NE of Iota (ι) Aquarii (mag +4.3). At mid-month, it lies 20 arcminutes from 38 Aquarii (mag +5.4).

The Moon

The last quarter moon is on the 8th with the new moon on the 15th.  The first quarter moon is on the 22nd with the full moon on the 29th.

On the evenings of the 3rd and 4th, the waning gibbous moon lies near to M45 – The Pleiades. On the 3rd, it lies to the W of the star cluster and on the following evening, to the S of it. Also on the 4th, Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9) lies to the S of the moon. On both evenings, look at around 22:00.

On the evening of the 5th, the waning gibbous moon lies 5° to the S of Jupiter at around 23:00.

On the morning of the 10th, the waning crescent moon lies to the SW of M44 – The Beehive Cluster at around 03:00.

On the mornings of the 12th and 13th, the waning crescent moon lies near to Venus. On the 12th, it lies to the W of it and on the 13th, to the S of it. Also on the 12th, the moon lies to the S of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4). On both mornings, look at around 05:00.

On the evenings of the 23rd and 24th, the waxing gibbous moon lies near to Neptune. On the 23rd, it lies to the W of it and on the 24th, to the N of it. On both evenings, look at around 21:00.

On the evening of the 26th, the waxing gibbous moon lies to the NW of Uranus at around 21:00.

On the evenings of the 30th and 31st, the waning gibbous moon lies near to M45 – The Pleiades. On the 30th, it lies to the W of it and on the 31st, to the S of it. On both evenings, look at around 21:00.

Meteors

The best time to observe meteor showers is when the moon is below the horizon; otherwise its bright glare limits the number you will see especially the fainter ones. Below is a guide to this month's showers.

The Orionids peak on the night of the 21st/22nd with a ZHR of 25. The waxing crescent moon sets at 23:35 on the evening of the 21st making for excellent lunar conditions. However you have to wait until around 01:00 for the radiant to be visible.

Details of any additional minor showers can be found at http://meteorshowersonline.com/calendar.html or http://www.imo.net/calendar/2012.

Asteroids


There are no bright asteroids at opposition this month.

Finder charts and further information about other fainter asteroids can be found at www.rasnz.org.nz in the source list below.

Comets

There are no bright comets this month.

Finder charts and further information about other fainter comets can be found at www.aerith.net , http://cometchasing.skyhound.com , http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ , http://kometen.fg-vds.de/fgk_hpe.htm and www.rasnz.org.nz in the source list below.

Deep Sky

On the deep sky front this month, galaxies M81 and M82 can be observed in Ursa Major. In Lyra – M57 – The Ring Nebula can be observed and in Vulpecula – M27 – The Dumbbell Nebula can be found. In Andromeda, M31 – The Andromeda galaxy can be observed along with its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. In Perseus, there is the open cluster M34 and the excellent Double Cluster – NGC 869 and 884. In Triangulum, there is the galaxy M33. Auriga reappears with its three open clusters M36, M37 and M38 as does Taurus with the excellent Pleiades – M45 and the Hyades. Orion returns to our skies with M42 – The Great Orion Nebula along with Gemini with the open cluster M35.

General Notes

Always keep an eye out for Aurorae. On the morning of the 28th at 2am, the clocks go back one hour and summer time ends.

Other interesting naked eye phenomena to look out for include the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein. Both are caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles which are present in the solar system. The Zodiacal Light can be seen in the West after evening twilight has disappeared or in the East before the morning twilight. The best time of year to see the phenomenon is late-Feb to early-April in the evening sky and September/October in the morning sky - it's then that the ecliptic, along which the cone of the zodiacal light lies, is steepest in our skies. The Gegenschein can be seen in the area of the sky opposite the sun. To view either, you must get yourself to a very dark site to cut out the light pollution. When trying to observe either of these phenomena, it is best to do so when the moon is below the horizon.


Clear Skies


Neill McKeown






Information Sources Used and Links

www.skyviewcafe.com ; Sky at Night Magazine Observing Guide and CD; www.aerith.net ; http://cometchasing.skyhound.com ; http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ ; http://kometen.fg-vds.de/fgk_hpe.htm ; http://www.rasnz.org.nz ; Stardust Magazine;
Philip's Stargazing 2012; Patrick Moore's 2012 Yearbook of Astronomy;
www.heavens-above.com; www.spaceweather.com ; http://meteorshowersonline.com/calendar.html ; http://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/; http://www.imo.net/calendar/2012 - International Meteor Organisation; http://seds.org/messier/ - The Messier Catalogue website;http://www.seds.org/messier/xtra/ngc/ngc.html - NGC Catalogue website; www.irishastronomy.org - Irish Federation of Astronomy Societies Website; irishastro.org.uk - Irish Astronomical Association website;

Appendix


The ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate is the number of meteors an observer would see in one hour under a clear, dark sky with a limiting apparent magnitude of 6.5 and if the radiant of the shower were in the zenith. The rate that can effectively be seen is nearly always lower and decreases as the radiant is closer to the horizon. The Zenith is the overhead point in the sky.


The radiant is the point in the sky, from which (to a planetary observer) meteors appear to originate, i.e. the Perseids, for example, are meteors which appear to come from a point within the constellation of Perseus. When the radiant is quoted as “circumpolar”, it is never below the horizon and visible all night, otherwise the times quoted are when the constellation in which the radiant lies rises above the horizon in the East.


A fireball is defined by the International Astronomical Union as a meteor brighter than any of the planets, i.e. magnitude -4 or brighter. The International Meteor Organisation alternatively defines it as a meteor which would have a magnitude of -3 or brighter at the zenith.


The ° symbol in the guide is that for degrees. A degree is two full moon widths to give an idea for judging any distances quoted in the guide. There are 60 arcminutes in a degree.


An asterism is a collection of stars seen in Earth's sky which form simple patterns which are easy to identify, i.e. the Big Dipper. They can be formed from stars within the same constellation or by stars from more than one constellation. Like the constellations, they are a line of sight phenomenon and the stars whilst visible in the same general direction, are not physically related and are often at significantly different distances from Earth.

Mag is short for magnitude which is the measure of an object’s brightness. The smaller the number, the brighter the object. The brightest object in the sky is the Sun at mag -26, the full moon is mag -12 and Venus the brightest planet is mag -4. The brightest stars are mag -1. If there is a 1 mag difference between two objects – there is a difference in brightness of a factor of 2.5 between the two objects. For example the full moon is eight magnitudes brighter than Venus on average which means it is 1,526 times brighter than Venus. Objects down to mag +6 can be seen with the naked eye under very dark skies.


Local time is always quoted in the guide and this means for November – February – universal time (UT)/GMT is used and for April to September – daylight savings time (DST, = GMT+1). For the months of March and October when the clocks go forward/back respectively, both times will be used and attention should be paid to any times at the end of these months for that change.


Deep Sky Objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters are classified in catalogues such as the Messier catalogue for objects like M44 – M for Messier. Another example of a catalogue would the New General Catalogue whose objects have the prefix NGC. There are links for websites to both catalogues in the section above.

The Planets


From Earth - Mercury and Venus are the inner planets in the solar system and Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are the outer planets. Below is a short guide as to how both the inner and outer planets move around the sun. The above pictorial guide should hopefully help in this.

 

The Inner Planets


These are best seen when at Greatest Eastern/Western elongation and are not visible when at either Inferior/Superior conjunction. Greatest Eastern elongation is when the inner planet is at its furthest point east from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the evening sky in the West after sunset, Western elongation is when its at its furthest point west from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the morning sky in the East before sunset. Inferior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is between the Sun and the Earth. Superior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.


From our Northerly latitudes, the ecliptic, along which the planets move, lies at a very shallow angle to the horizon after sunset in the autumn and before sunrise in the spring. This means that any of the planets will be difficult to see when fairly close to the Sun in the evening sky in the autumn or in the morning sky in the spring. In particular, Mercury is more or less invisible from here when at Eastern elongation in the autumn or at Western elongation in the spring, because it lies so close to the horizon and is never above the horizon except in daylight or bright twilight.


The normal cycle for an inner planet is Superior Conjunction – Greatest Eastern Elongation – Inferior Conjunction – Greatest Western Elongation - Superior Conjunction. After superior conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible in the evening sky after a period of time. It then moves past the point of Greatest Eastern Elongation and moves back towards the Sun as seen from Earth until a point when it is not visible and at Inferior Conjunction. After this the planet appears in the morning sky for a time, before again slipping into the Sun’s glare as seen from Earth. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet’s closeness to the Sun, i.e. Mercury completes the above cycle in around 4 months.


The Outer Planets

These are best seen when at opposition and are not visible when at conjunction. Opposition occurs when the earth is between the sun and the outer planet. It is the best time to observe them because the planet is visible all through the night and it is due South and at its highest at about midnight. The planet is also at its closest point in its orbit to Earth – making it appear brighter. Conjunction occurs when the outer planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.

If the planet is at or near it furthest point South along the ecliptic, then it won’t get very high in the sky even at opposition – just as the Sun never gets high in the sky in midwinter. This happens when opposition occurs near midsummer when the planet is opposite the Sun in the sky and in midsummer the Sun is high, so the planet will be low. The opposite of course applies in winter.

The normal cycle for an outer planet is Conjunction – Western Quadrature – Opposition – Eastern Quadrature - Conjunction. After conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible again. The planet from this point on rises earlier and earlier in the morning sky and eventually becomes visible in the evening sky. At Western Quadrature it is at its highest at sunrise and by opposition it is in the same position by midnight. By Eastern Quadrature, it is past its best and is at its highest at sunset, meaning it is rising in daytime and setting earlier and earlier until a point when it sets too close to the Sun as seen from Earth and is no longer visible. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet’s closeness to the Sun, i.e. Jupiter completes the above cycle in around 13-14 months.


Neill

Neill McKeown

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