THE NIGHT SKIES IN OCTOBER
(James A. Lewis is a member of Stars R/us Astronomy Club.)
I think that October is one of the best months for roaming about in the night sky with just your eyes or binoculars. Why?
It gets nice and dark a lot earlier than in the summer. In October it’s quite dark about 8 p.m. In contrast, in mid-summer it takes until 10:30 for good views of the stars. It gets really cold in November and December and even colder later on.
The Milky Way, our home galaxy, is awesome in October. When it gets dark shortly after 8 p.m., scan the band of stars starting at the southwest horizon to overhead (the Zenith) and down to the north-east horizon. That’s the Milky Way.
In the overhead stars you are in the region of the Summer Triangle, which Larry Stookey wrote about in September. Closer to the northeast horizon, you will see the zig-zag shape of King Cepheus, halfway from the horizon to the Zenith.
The soft band—or river—of light is caused by the light of many thousands of distant stars, too far away to be seen as individual stars. The ancient Greeks thought the Milky Way was a band, or river, of Milk and the word “galaxy” is from the Greek word for milk, “galak.”
You may wonder why when looking into the direction of the Galaxy’s center in the low southwest, the bright glow of the Galaxy’s center is not visible. The reason is that the Galaxy is filled with lots of clouds of stardust. If we could see through the stardust, we would certainly see the bright center, full of bright stars.
Many years ago, we were visited by my parents-in-law. One dark night, my father-in-law went outside with me to see the stars. We both had binoculars. We looked into the southwest sky near the horizon. He was astounded to see the many blobs of light.
That was the appropriate reaction. He was looking at spheres of many stars called “clusters,” and areas of mostly glowing hydrogen gas called “nebulae,” which is Latin for “clouds.” These glow with tints of color and many new stars are slowly coming to birth in the nebulae. Creation is ongoing.
If you are just starting out in observing the stars, don’t be concerned about all their names or the names of the constellations. That can wait. If you are able to see the night sky and think WOW, that is enough!
You can get a free star map for each month by going to www.skymaps.com.
They can be printed and have loads of information. Happy Stargazing!