Third Place is Often Forgotten!
This is the Triangulum Galaxy, M33. It’s the third biggest galaxy in our local group of galaxies. That means it’s the little brother of the Andromeda Galaxy and our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It also means that a lot of star watchers, (myself included), kind of forget about it or take it for granted!
But M33 has a lot of good things going for it. With a visual magnitude of +5.7, it can be viewed with the naked eye under excellent viewing conditions. It’s about 2.8 million light years away from us, and that makes it the most distant object you can view with the naked eye! And if you can see it with the naked eye, you can see it really well with a pair of wide-view binoculars!
Relatively speaking, M33 is small compared to M31 and the Milky Way. M33 is comprised of about 60 billion stars. The Milky Way is estimated to contain around 400 billion stars. And the big brother, M31, contains close to one trillion stars!
M33 is moving closer to both the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way. Evidence shows it will probably collide with M31 in 2.5 billion years. This collision might result in M33 being “devoured” by M31. And then that conglomeration will collide with the Milky Way in 4 billion years!
M33 might have been discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna in the 1600s. He noted it as a “cloud-like nebulosity” appearing in the open cluster NGC 752. Charles Messier re-discovered it in 1764, and added it to his catalog. In 1850, Lord Rosse noted that it was a spiral galaxy!
What you can look for in September’s Night Skies
Venus continues as the “Morning Star.” With a visual magnitude of -4.2, you won’t confuse it with anything else. Look for Venus to rise over the ocean at 3:42 a.m. on October 1.
The evening skies still feature Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. Both Jupiter and Saturn rise before sunset. Just after sunset on October 1, Jupiter will be about 30° above the southern horizon. Saturn is slightly behind Jupiter, and the nearly full moon will lag behind the two planets. Mars rises at 7:33 p.m.
We have two major meteor showers peaking in October. The Draconids peak on the night of October 7. Shooting star action starts right after sundown in the WNW. The shower will appear to originate from the constellation Draco, which will start the night about 60° above the horizon. The Orionids meteor shower will peak early in the morning of October 21. As the name implies, it appears to originate from the constellation Orion. Orion will rise in the ESE at about 10:30 p.m. on October 20, but best viewing will be after midnight. Look for about 20 meteors per hour, and with any luck, you might see a fire ball or two.
1st Quarter is October 23
Full Moon is October 1
Last Quarter is October 9
New Moon is October 16