Some daily sky sights among the ever-changing stars and planets
The monster sunspot continues in view; see "This Week's Planet Roundup" below.
Friday, October 24
As the stars come out, Deneb is nearly straight overhead for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes. Brighter Vega is west of the zenith. Altair is farther from the zenith toward the south.
Saturday, October 25
A half hour after sunset, spot the thin waxing crescent Moon very low in the west-southwest. Look to its lower right to see whether you can still detect Saturn, which has been sinking lower every day. Binoculars help.
Sunday, October 26
As autumn proceeds, the Great Square of Pegasus shines ever higher in the east at nightfall. It's still balancing on one corner. Later in the night and the season, it turns to rest upright very high when you face south.
Monday, October 27
Spot Mars to the left of the waxing crescent Moon at nightfall, as shown here.
Tuesday, October 28
This evening Mars is below the Moon at nightfall, as shown above.
Wednesday, October 29
The Ghost of Summer Suns. Halloween is approaching, and this means that Arcturus, the star sparkling low in the west-northwest in twilight, is taking on its role as "the Ghost of Summer Suns."
What does this mean? For several days centered on October 29th every year, Arcturus occupies a special place above your local landscape. It closely marks the spot there where the Sun stood at the same time, by the clock, during warm June and July — in broad daylight, of course. So, in the last days of October each year, you can think of Arcturus as the chilly Halloween ghost of the departed summer Sun.
Thursday, October 30
First-quarter Moon (exactly so at 3:33 p.m. EDT). As twilight fades out, use binoculars to look a bit right of the Moon for Alpha Capricorni, a wide, lovely yellow double star. Look to Alpha's lower left for Beta Capricorni, a less wide, more difficult double for binoculars; the secondary star in this case is fainter.
Friday, October 31
For Halloween after dark, the quarter Moon shines in the south. It's between Altair, very high to its upper right, and Fomalhaut, down to its lower left.
Saturday, November 1
This evening at nightfall, look for Fomalhaut almost straight below the Moon. Vega is the brightest star very high in the west-northwest. Capella, similarly bright, is rising in the northeast.
Daylight-saving time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday morning for most of North America. Clocks fall back an hour.
Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby; for an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means fairly heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is coming into its best morning apparition of 2014 for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes. It brightens rapidly from magnitude +0.7 to –0.6 this week, hanging low above the eastern horizon in mid-dawn. It'll probably be in best view about 60 to 45 minutes before sunrise, depending on the clarity of your low eastern sky. Don't confuse Mercury with twinklier Arcturus far to its left in the east-northeast.
Venus is close to the Sun, hidden its glare.
Mars (magnitude +0.9) remains low in the southwestern sky as twilight fades into night.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.0, at the Cancer-Leo border) rises in the east-northeast around 1 a.m. By dawn it shines brightly high in the southeast. Spot Regulus about a fist-width below or lower left of it.
Saturn is sinking away into the sunset. Scan for it with binoculars just above the west-southwest horizon, very far to the lower right of Mars, as twilight deepens.
Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) are high in the southeast and south, respectively, in early evening. See our finder charts for Uranus and Neptune online or in the September Sky & Telescope, page 50.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.
Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
“This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adhering to a simple set of rules. Test ideas by experiments and observations. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson, 2014.