October 2018

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into four sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, with a small refracting telescope and with a Dobsonian reflector. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on October 9th. For October, your best viewing nights will be from October 1st to the 13th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on October 15th at 9 pm. Note: A new table of contents for earlier columns is located in this January 2018 column.


ScienceSouth Astronomy Viewing Update:

Due to the arrival of hurricane Florence last month, our astronomy viewing event was cancelled. This public viewing event at ScienceSouth has been rescheduled for October 12th and 13th. These viewing dates were chosen because they are weekend dates that correspond to two and possibly three visible planets and the Moon. The three planets are Saturn and Mars, and possibly Jupiter in the early evening. The best time to view the Moon is during the first seven days after a new Moon. On these nights we will have a 4- day and a 5-day Moon.

October Viewing:

One thing I miss in South Carolina is Star Parties. ScienceSouth does have several astronomy viewing events during the year, but they differ from a true Star Party. A Star Party is an event in which large groups of amateur astronomers gather with their telescopes in a dark sky location to view the night sky. Most people attending these events stay all night. These events always have an admission fee, and many limit the number of people based on the size of the viewing location. If you are new to the hobby, and want to purchase a telescope, these are great places to learn more about equipment. The dedicated astronomers attending will often help you out with any questions about viewing equipment and technique. Most people who attend a Star Party have a viewing plan/goal for the evening. Once their plan is complete, they tend to wander about and check out other amateur’s scopes and other equipment.

Viewing in the winter, and even in the spring, nights tend to be on the cold side. Summer viewing is warm, but you suffer from the humidity and turbulent hot air disturbing clear viewing. It is normal to find many Star Parties in the fall, usually October and November. There is less humidity and less atmospheric turbulence, and the Earth’s residual ground heat results in warmer nighttime viewing. For this reason, many amateur astronomers are very familiar with the skies of autumn. Below are several viewing targets that I enjoy during October Star Parties. Of course many of these sights are visible during the summer months, but as noted above, summer humidity prevents their clear view.

Naked Eye Asterisms: In the southwest, the large Northern Cross asterism in Cygnus is standing upright. In the south, is the Great Square asterism in Pegasus. Also in the southwest is the Summer Triangle. Three bright stars form this triangle: Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus, and Altair in Aquila. Below we will use this asterism to locate some nice viewing targets.

Naked Eye Galaxy: The only naked eye galaxy is the Andromeda Galaxy. If you can see this small elliptical smudge with your naked eye, it is a test of your eyesight, and also indicates that the sky is clear enough for good astronomy viewing. This galaxy is a huge object in the night sky, however it is quite dim so you only see the core of Andromeda Galaxy. The entire galaxy spans the width of about six full Moons!  See below.


I discussed my personal Andromeda Galaxy observation thrill in my October 2014 column, check it out.

Below is a chart of the Summer Triangle, and various targets in that region.


I believe the most impressive star in the sky is the beautiful blue and gold double star Albireo in Cygnus; see chart above. Check it out using a simple telescope or big binoculars; see image below.


A nice asterism in this region is called the “Coathanger”. This asterism is best viewed through simple binoculars. The ten stars in this asterism clearly show an upside down coathanger; see below.

It is noteworthy to mention that these ten stars are just a chance alignment of stars, and are not associated with each other. In the northern hemisphere, the Coathanger is always seen as upside down; and in the southern hemisphere, it is always seen right side up.

The last interesting target is the Dumbbell nebula, M27. This target appears to be in Cygnus, but based on constellation boundaries, it is located in the constellation Vulpecula (as is the Coathanger asterism). M27 is a planetary nebula, which is a misnomer. These nebulas are the result of the expulsion of gases that can occur when an average size star dies. There are numerous examples of these planetary nebulas best known by their amazing Hubble telescope images. M27 is called the Dumbbell due to its hourglass shape. Even with a good telescope, it is still just a fuzzy image. It is an easy target for binoculars or a Dob telescope. However, it is best viewed through big binoculars. In dark skies, through 25 X 100 mm binoculars, it gives a 3-D optical illusion resulting in the appearance that it is standing out in front of the background stars; check it out.

Naked Eye Sights: See above

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): The asterism the “Coathanger”.

Big Binocular Sights (18 to 25 power): The Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula

Telescope Sights (60-100mm): Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Also the star Albireo

Dobsonian telescope (6 -8 inch): Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Also the Ring Nebula M57 in Lyra.


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