By Nancy and Larry Lebofsky
We hope you've had a chance to view the late Summer/early Fall constellations and to see Jupiter in the southwest. Now it's time to move into the heart of Fall observing and to get a preview of the fabulous Winter constellations. Remember, if you are still on Daylight Savings Time, add one hour to our listed viewing times!
NIGHT SKY VIEWING:
We've been viewing the Moon several nights this week with Larry's college students, along with the prominent early evening stars such as Arcturus, Antares, Vega, Deneb, and Altair. For those of us in Arizona (Mountain Standard Time) the Sun is setting at about 6:15 p.m. We are able to see Jupiter shortly thereafter, then Arcturus in the west and Vega nearly overhead; then we see Altair (nearly overhead) and Antares (in the southwest) by about 6:45. Several students who came to Tuesday's observing night returned on Thursday. Seeing the Moon in relation to Antares over the course of three nights, two young men asked, "Did Antares move to the right of the Moon since Tuesday?" Can you figure out why Larry's answer was no and what motion they were actually seeing?
Turning to the north, Cassiopeia is visible to the right (east) of Polaris. Depending on your northern horizon, you may begin to lose sight of part of Ursa Major/the Big Dipper. Just east of Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Pegasus are now visible once the sky is dark.
If you've been observing Scorpius and Sagittarius mid-evening to the south, you should have noted their progress toward the western horizon. During the STORI workshop in Arkansas in June, we observed Scorpius just rising in the east; now it is close to setting in the west. Note the locations of these southern sky constellations and make a prediction of when they will be gone from the evening sky. Then keep watch and say farewell to these summer favorites!
Fall constellations in general are very large in area and their stars are not very bright. Directly to the south, Fomalhaut (in Piscis Austrinus) is the only first magnitude (very bright) star at this time of year. On Oct. 31 the Moon, just past First Quarter, will be above Fomalhaut.
In the west, Mercury is barely visible below Jupiter just as the sky gets dark for most of October. On Oct. 2, Mercury is 18 degrees below Jupiter. If Jupiter is the center of a clock, Mercury is at 5:00. By Oct. 15, they are nearly above/below one another, separated by about 5 degrees. On Oct. 24, the thin crescent Moon is to the south (left) of Jupiter and Mercury. Use your computer planetarium program for exact times and locations.
Arizona teachers: Last month's newsletter mentioned the identification of Ursa Major and Cassiopeia is part of the Arizona Science Standards. Cygnus (in the Summer Triangle) and Scorpius are also part of the standard. Orion, the fifth and final constellation in the group, is coming soon!!
Jupiter and the Moon are the obvious choices at this time, although the Moon is already at First Quarter and will soon be too bright to see much detail. You may want to wait until later in the month for telescopic observations of the Moon. Jupiter's Galilean satellites (Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto) have been beautiful in the telescope this week, one night lined up two on either side of the planet, one night all four on one side.
If you have fairly dark skies, you might want to try for the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Andromeda trails off the bottom left corner of the Great Square of Pegasus in a line of stars. M31 is between these stars and Cassiopeia to the northwest. Start at the bottom corner of the Great Square. Go to the second bright star in the line. Use binoculars to find another bright star at 11:00, then look from this star to about 10:00 for a slightly fainter star. Right above it you will see a fuzzy patch which is the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest neighbor at two million light years away. Try looking at M31 through your telescope. Consult your computer planetarium program or a reference book such as Turn Left at Orion for specific directions for locating M31 and for viewing times.
EARLY MORNING VIEWING:
The entire Winter Hexagon is visible in the southern sky early in the morning. We'll talk more about these constellations as they become evening objects. Saturn is rising at about 3:00 a.m. and will become an evening object in January.
As Scorpius begins to set and the "Rabbit Tracks" or "Three Ducks Swimming" (i.e., the tail of Scorpius) disappear from the night sky, the traditional storytelling time begins. This is the time when the birds fly south, animals begin to hibernate, and ice begins to form on the rivers. Speaking for us in southern Arizona, thousands of butterflies have been migrating through town for the past few weeks, the white wing doves are beginning to leave, and the scorpions are no longer strolling down the sides of the streets after dark, so we are definitely seeing the beginning of a seasonal change despite daytime temperatures in the 90s.
While Scorpius is still available in the early evening, try to picture these stars as something other than a scorpion. In his book The New Patterns in the Sky, author Julius D. W. Staal shows illustrations from other cultures in which Scorpius is viewed as: (a) a mother with baby (Brazil, picture the baby in a basket on the mother's back with the basket fitting into the body and curve of the scorpion's tail); (b) a palm tree (Borneo, Java, Bali, picture the tree bending to the west in the sky); (c) a goose hatching its eggs under the palm tree (Java, picture the goose nestled in the scorpion's tail at the base of the palm tree on the leeward side with the dangerous coconuts hanging on the windward side); (d) a ray (East Indies, western Pacific); and (e) a snake or serpent (Java, Brazil).
Another interpretation sees Scorpius as Maui's Fish Hook. Maui legends come from both New Zealand and Hawaii, where Maui is associated with Mt. Haleakala on the island of Maui. A summary of the story of Maui's Fish Hook from New Zealand follows:
One day Maui was fishing when he felt his fish hook snag on something on the bottom of the sea. He tugged and pulled as hard as he could until the hook broke free and rushed to the surface. Along with the hook there came a fish-shaped island. On the island were grass, trees, and people. The men were hunters and the women cooked on open fires. Maui warned his own people not to harm the fish-island, but of course they did not listen. Soon they were hacking pieces out of the island. This left the island with a ragged coast line, and eventually the island broke into two islands. We know these as the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The fish hook came up from the bottom of the sea so rapidly, and broke the surface with so much speed and strength, that it flew up into the sky. Today we see Maui's fish hook in the stars of the constellation Scorpius.