For the Northern Hemisphere Late September/ Early October marks the start of darkening skies and improving astronomy conditions. After several months of just a few hours darkness per night, astronomers begin to arm themselves with coats and scopes, and head out into the skies.
Firstly let’s take a look at what Deep Sky Objects are on display over the next month.
One of the true jewels of the sky, the Pleiades, M45, or the Seven Sisters as it’s known, is rising to magnificence in the eastern sky in the early hours of the night. Look for a collection of small, dim stars making up what can be described as a ‘pan’ shaped asterism in Taurus. Further reference can be made to the ‘Plough’ or ‘Big Dipper’ in Ursa Major, of which The Pleiades bears a resemblance, albeit far smaller and less obvious.
The Pleiades is an open cluster of several hundred young, blue stars, though only a handful will be visible through a telescope.
Staying with open clusters and moving towards the region of Perseus, take a look at the Double Cluster, possibly the best example in the northern skies. The double cluster is an excellent sight through even the most modest telescope, and will please beginners and experts alike. Look for the cluster between the upper reaches of Perseus and the lower reaches of the great ‘W’- Cassiopeia. It should be immediately obvious upon location and can even be glimpsed with the naked eye in dark skies.
Fans of globular clusters should not despair, as M15, a bright and easily visible globular is placed well throughout the next month. Look for M15 near the ‘head star’ Enif, located in the constellation Pegasus. Get your fill soon though, as M15 will be lowering in the sky, making viewing conditions less than favorable by the end of October.
Moving to galaxies now and one cannot leave an autumn night without viewing one of the most famous of all astronomical objects- the Andromeda Galaxy, or M31. The Andromeda Galaxy is a twin to our own galaxy, and at over 2 million light years away, it forms a formidable view through a moderate telescope. The galaxy can be found in the constellation of the same name, attached to the tail end of Pegasus. Use averted vision and a low power eyepiece to get the most out of this fantastic object.
Planetary enthusiasts will be pleased to see Jupiter rising in the early eastern night sky, shining at a respectable magnitude. Remember to use a moon filter to take some of the brightness off, especially at low magnifications. Visible through a modest 100 mm telescope should be the planet’s cloud belts and collection of orbiting moons. Those fortunate enough to own a larger telescope should try to make out the Great Red Spot (see above image), though note it will not always be placed for viewing.
Those wanting a more challenging planet-hunt should look for Uranus, moving through Pisces and reaching opposition on the 29th September. A near full Moon should make locating the planet difficult, and a good southern horizon will be needed, however once located telescopically the planet should be easy enough to discern from the rest of its stellar neighbourhood.
This year’s Orionid meteor shower is active through the latter half of October and peaks 20th-22nd. Orionids are known for their persistent trails and they have the claim to fame of being caused by the well known Halley’s Comet. Look for them in the east when the great constellation Orion rises, around 9pm GMT.
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Images: Astronomy Public Domain