What’s in the sky for October 2020 and beyond – Ian Bradley

Astronomy weather forecast sites

They are customizable to your location – the links below are set to Kendal.

Nice resources

Sky Notes for October – Ian Bradley

Last month, I mentioned that aurorae were being photographed from Scotland. Well a few nights ago, Carol Grayson, ex-member and local publican Phil Walker and I drove up to Long Meg stone circle just north of Penrith to try and see auroral activity. We managed to photograph a low auroral arc and even convince ourselves that we could see it with the unaided eye … so keep an eye on Glendale Skye Auroras on Facebook or even better, download his alert app.

A faint auroral arc with Long Meg in the foreground September, 00:40 September 26th Credit: Ian Bradley. Click on images to expand.

Don’t forget, Daylight Saving Time ends in the early morning of Sunday, October 25th

Sunrise/Sunset

Date Sunrise Sunset Astronomical darkness
October 1st 07:13 18:46 20:45 – 05:15
October 8th 07:26 18:28 20:27 – 05:29
October 15th 07:40 18:12 20:10 – 05:43
October 22nd 07:53 17:58 19:55 – 05:55
October 29th* 07:07 16:41 18:41 – 05:28

* Don’t forget, Daylight Saving Time ends in the early morning of Sunday, October 25th

The Moon

Phase   October November
Full Moon 1st …1st
3rd Quarter 9th 8th
New Moon 16th 14th
1st Quarter 23rd 21st
Full Moon 31st 29th

The Planets

Mercury is a difficult object in the early evening sky as the plane of the ecliptic is so shallow relative to the horizon at this time of year. At sunset on October 1st, Mercury is a mere 2° above the horizon – not visible.

Venus is visible all month in the eastern sky at dawn. It rises about 04:00 mid-month and is 21° high an hour before sunrise shining very brightly at magnitude -4.

Mars is now well placed and unmissable. It rises about 18:20 BST mid-month and transits about 01:00 BST when it is high in the sky with an altitude of 41 degrees. Looks nice in a telescope with the southern icecap visible.

Jupiter/Saturn are both still striking despite being so low on the horizon. They are quite close together in the sky separated by 6.5°with Saturn to the east. At magnitude -2.3, Jupiter is considerably brighter than Saturn at magnitude 0.5. Mid-month, 30 minutes after sunset, it is 13 above the horizon. Jupiter transits around 19:00 BST.

The two planets make a striking sight in the sky which, as autumn progresses, get closer together as they approach conjunction on December 21st. By the end of November, they will be only 2° apart. Sadly, the really close approach on December 21st will occur in daylight so it will be invisible to us. However, on the evening of December 20th, Jupiter and Saturn will be only 9’ apart, 1/3rd of a Moon diameter, as they set around 18:00GMT, so well worth looking for.

Uranus is visible throughout the night throughout October, when it rises around 18:40 BST on October 15th, and transits about 0200. At only 4” angular diameter, and magnitude 5.7, you’ll probably need to use binoculars or a small telescope to see it. It should appear a slight blue colour.

Neptune is visible all night at around magnitude 7.8 throughout the month. At only 2” angular diameter, and being so faint, you’ll need to use an optical aid to see it. It should appear a lovely blue colour.

ISS visible passes

With early evening ISS visible passes at the start of the month, there is nearly a three week gap before we get some bright early morning passes.

See Heavens Above website for further times.

 

Meteor Showers

The next showers are:

Draconids meteor shower – October 7th. Radiates from the Head of Draco and worth looking for a day either side. Because Draco is almost overhead in the evening, this shower tends to be best in the evening rather than morning. But it is an oddball as generally it doesn’t produce that many meteors per hour but is prone to intense outbursts of 100’s per hour some years. The Moon isn’t an issue early evening as moonrise is around 9pm.

Orionids meteor shower – October 21st. A long faint shower active October 2nd to October November 7th. At best 10 to 20 per hour and usually better early morning. Tend to be fast-moving meteors which occasionally leave persistent trains and sometimes bright fireballs. The Moon sets early evening. Probably best in the few hours before dawn on October 21st and 22nd.

Leonids meteor shower – November 17th. Active November 14th to November 23rd. One of the better shows with the radiant inside the reverse question mark, The Sickle, of Leo. Typically, 10 to 15 meteors per hour but it does have occasional very strong showings. Best after midnight. The expected peak night is from late night November 16th till dawn November 17th with most meteors in the predawn hours. As there is no Moon to hide the meteors, this could be well worth the effort to see.

Geminids meteor shower – December 13th. Active December 7th to 17th. Peak occurs at New Moon… possibly the best shower of 2020. Maybe over 100 meteors per hour. As usual best after midnight. Gemini transits around 02:30 GMT. One to look out for.

Sky Charts

The charts are for the mid-October at 23:00 BST. At the start of the month, they are correct at midnight and at the end of the month, 22:00BST. They will also be correct for mid-November at 21:00 BST.

Looking up, [below] south is at the bottom.

We still have the fabulous Milky Way right over your heads and the asterism of the Summer Triangle consisting of Altair, Vega and Deneb still very prominent. This is a great time of year to see objects of interest in the constellations at the zenith: Cygnus, Lyra and Cassiopeia.

The most obvious star cluster is The Double Cluster (NGC 884/869) situated between Cassiopeia and Perseus. In addition, there is Caroline’s Rose, NGC7789, and M103 in Cassiopeia, M34 in Perseus, M29 and M39 in Cygnus for starters. The area is a joy to behold in binoculars on a dark night. There is the globular cluster M62, sometimes known as the Flickering Globular as it seems to change brightness – purely an optical illusion. For wide field imaging photographic targets, what could be better than M31, The Great Andromeda Galaxy and nearby telescopic M33. I saw M31 with my unaided eye from a very dark site recently whilst looking for aurora – it was huge, several times larger than a full moon when looked at with averted vision. I find the Square of Pegasus acts as a good signpost to M31. To find M31, star hop from the corner nearest Perseus. This star is Alpheratz, magnitude 2. Following the line of the top of the square towards Perseus there is a fainter, magnitude 3 star, then and slightly higher is Mirach at magnitude 2. Turn a right angle ‘up’ towards the pole and at the second star (both around mag 4) you are almost there.

In addition, there is the North America Nebula complex, NGC7000, in Cygnus and the California Nebula, NGC1499. With a tracked 70mm lens you could capture both NCC7000 and the Pleiades, M45, in one shot.

The crowning glory of planetary nebulae, the Ring Nebula, M57, is still a splendid fuzzy ring in a small telescope. Just 2° from Vega is The Double-Double, ε−Lyrae, a binary star in binoculars, but with a telescope each of these two stars is seen to be a double star itself..

Whilst on double stars, you must look at Albireo, β-Cygni. This is a beautiful low power telescopic object the brighter star golden and the dimmer one blue. See later photograph.

Looking south

Three planets to look for here: Mars is unmissable Uranus in Pisces should be visible in binoculars but tiny distant Neptune should be more of a binocular challenge. You might want a good star chart/app for that one!

In the deep sky, the crowning object must be the Dumbbell Nebula, M27, planetary nebula. Lovely in a telescope. The two bright and large globular clusters M2 and M15, both about magnitude 6 and 12’ in diameter look good in binoculars or a small telescope.

Now the constellation Cetus, The Whale, is one I know little about. A quick Google tells me that it is surrounded by other water-related constellations: Aquarius, Pisces, Eridanus [not labelled on the chart but lower (south) in the sky]. It does contain one remarkable variable star – Mira (ο Ceti), “the wonderful variable star Mira” which was the first non-supernova variable star discovered. It is a pulsating variable that changes brightness with an average period of 331 days as the star’s diameter shrinks and grows…

In addition, Kaffaljidhma, γ-Ceti, is a rather close but lovely double star [magnitudes 3.6 and 6.2] with a separation of 2.6” and thus requires at least a telescope of 10cm aperture to separate them. The colours are usually described as yellow and blue although this is partly illusionary contrast effect given the known spectral types of the two stars. Actually, the system is a triple star but the faint third star [a magnitude 10 red dwarf at position angle 315°] is 840” [about half the angular diameter of the Moon] away.

Looking east

The winter constellations are starting to appear with Orion just peeking up around 23:00. The Pleiades, M45, is easily seen and makes a good widefield photo-op. A much more open cluster in Taurus is the vee of the Hyades with Aldebaran at one end.

Scan through Auriga with binoculars and the trio of Messier objects, M36, M37 and M38, will appear as faint misty clouds if you have a dark sky. In Perseus, we have another open cluster, M34, and just beneath this and west of Mirfak (α-Per) is Algol, the prototype for a class of eclipsing variable stars. Usually magnitude with subsequent times during the month by calculation. drops to 3.4 every 2.86 days – (2 days 20 hours 49 min), a rather noticeable change. The times for the first eclipse minima in the coming months are

Three planets to look for here: Mars is unmissable Uranus in Pisces should be visible in binoculars but tiny distant Neptune should be more of a binocular challenge. You might want a good star chart/app for that one!

In the deep sky, the crowning object must be the Dumbbell Nebula, M27, planetary nebula. Lovely in a telescope. The two bright and large globular clusters M2 and M15, both about magnitude 6 and 12’ in diameter look good in binoculars or a small telescope.

October 1st 2020 21:05
November 1st 2020 19:01
December 3rd 2020 08:00

with subsequent times during the month by calculation.

Algol’s light curve with its double minimum. The secondary minimum is quite shallow as the hidden fainter star is much dimmer (mag ~5) than the primary star (mag~2). When the fainter star is in front of the primary, then there is a large dimming. The stars are only 0.062 AU apart.

 

Looking west

Many of the other major objects have already been discussed earlier: M27, M57, M11. In the constellation of We will soon lose the constellation Hercules so now is the time, if you haven’t already, see the magnificent (magnitude 6) globular clusters of M13 nearly 17’ in diameter and M92, a mere 11’ in diameter.

Looking north

Ursa Major is not at its best for our map times but it provides a handy reference for the north. Look out for aurora across this region of sky.


Next Observing Evening

Given the current situation regarding coronavirus, observing evenings can not occur.