Supernova 2011fe, which erupted in the galaxy M101 on August 24th, peaked at magnitude 9.9 in early to mid-September and was down to about magnitude 11.3 as of October 6th. It has also been turning ever deeper orange-red. Catch it right after dusk before it moves lower in the northwestern sky. For charts and other information see our article The M101 Supernova Shines On.
Friday, Oct. 7
Saturday, Oct. 8
Sunday, Oct. 9
For timetables of all of Jupiter's Red Spot transits and satellite events this month, see the October Sky & Telescope, page 54.
Monday, Oct. 10
Tuesday, Oct. 11
Wednesday, Oct. 12
Thursday, Oct. 13
Friday, Oct. 14
Saturday, Oct. 15
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
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 magazine of 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 must have a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's new 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 classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. 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 (about magnitude –0.7) is very deep in the sunset. For a real challenge, use binoculars or a telescope shortly after sundown if the air is very clear to see if you can pick up Mercury barely above the horizon to the lower right of Venus. Good luck.
Venus (magnitude –3.9) is just above the west-southwest horizon 15 or 20 minutes after sunset. Binoculars help. If you spot Venus, you'll be one of a small number to see it this early in its apparition — compared to the billions who will see it as the Evening Star blazing high in twilight in the coming months.
Mars (magnitude +1.3, in Cancer) rises around 1 or 2 a.m. daylight-saving time. By the beginning of dawn it's in good view high in the east, well below Castor and Pollux. Well to the upper right of Mars is Procyon. Off to Procyon's lower right shines bright Sirius. In a telescope, Mars is a tiny blob only 5 arcseconds wide.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.9, in southern Aries) rises in the east-northeast during twilight and blazes brightly in the east to southeast all evening. Look above it for the stars of Aries and closer below it for the head of Cetus, rather dim. (And don't miss Mira, now unusually bright and plain to the naked eye, to the right of the head of Cetus. See our article Observe Mira, the Amazing Star.)
Jupiter shines highest in the south after midnight, making this the best time to examine it with a telescope. It's a big 49 arcseconds wide, essentially as big now as it will appear at its October 28th opposition. See our guide to observing Jupiter with a telescope.
Saturn is out of sight in conjunction behind the Sun.
Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude 7.8, in Aquarius) are well placed in the south and southeast by mid- to late evening. Use our printable finder chart for both, or see the September Sky & Telescope, page 53.
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) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
NEW BOOK: Sue French's DEEP-SKY WONDERS! This big, long-awaited observing guide by Sky & Telescope's Sue French is now available from Shop at Sky. Hefty and lavishly illustrated, it contains Sue’s 100 favorite sky tours (25 per season, with finder charts) from her 11 years of writing the Celestial Sampler and Deep-Sky Wonders columns for S&T. Don’t miss it!
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