September 29, 2017

Night Sky:
Shooting Stars and Other Highlights for October 2017 


This is the Andromeda Galaxy, Messier 31.  It's a little over 2.5 million light years away from us and contains over 1 trillion stars. With a magnitude of +3.36 it should be visible to the naked eye, but I have only managed to see it with binoculars or a scope.  There are two very bright satellite galaxies in the image that get their own Messier designations.  The brighter one is to the left of Andromeda is M32 and the fainter one on the right is M110.

The second image is Messier 33, the Triangulum Galaxy.  M33 is about 2.8 million light years away and contains about 35 billion stars. It only has a visual magnitude of +5.8 which pretty much puts it out of view with the naked eye unless your some place with almost no light pollution.

What to Look for in October 2017

Saturn will start the month in the SW.  It will be visible for about two hours before disappearing below the horizon.

Venus and Mars will both be visible near the Eastern horizon in the early morning hours.

Both Neptune and Uranus will be in the night skies throughout October.  Neptune rises before sunset followed by Uranus just after sunset.

 The Orionids meteor shower is active throughout the month.  It peaks on the 21st of October. Typically there are 20-25 shooting stars per hour.  

The Southern Taurids are also active in October.  They peak on October 28th.  The Taurids usually produce about 5 shooting stars per hour.  That may not sound like much, but the Taurids are also known for producing fire-balls.

If you are really into shooting stars, you’ve probably noticed that the best viewing usually happens after midnight!    That’s because during the first part of the night, our field of view is opposite the direction of the Earth’s orbit around the sun.  This means that the Earth is literally running away from the wannabe shooting stars.  After midnight your field of view changes relative to the Earth’s direction of travel.  It’s kind of like running into bugs with your car.  You spend a lot more time cleaning them off the front windshield then you do off the back window!

Moon Phases:

1st Quarter is the 27th
 Full Moon is the 05th
 3rd Quarter is the 12th
 New Moon is the 19th

(Gerry Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington, D.C.  He has visited Hatteras Island since the mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.  Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky through e-mail, [email protected]g.)

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