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The night sky for October 2014

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during October 2014.

The constellations of Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila are almost overhead in the evening, with their bright stars Deneb, Vega and Altair forming the Summer Triangle. The Square of Pegasus is to the lower left of Cygnus. If you move from its top-left to the next bright star, fork a little to another star and go the same distance again, before turning sharply right to find another star, then carrying on a little further brings you to the fuzzy glow of the Andromeda Galaxy. If you go back to the sharp right turn and carry on the same distance again, binoculars may pick up the Triangulum Galaxy as well. Andromeda can also be found by moving along the Milky Way from Deneb to the W-shape of the Cassiopeia constellation and following the V of the three highest stars like an arrow. Moving a bit further along the Milky Way, and dropping down between two stars towards Perseus, you can locate the beautiful Double Cluster.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

Claire Bretherton from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during October 2014.

The winter constellation of Scorpius (Te Matau a Maui to Maori) is dropping towards the western horizon, and sets by midnight NZDT (New Zealand Daylight Time, 13 hours ahead of Universal Time). Meanwhile, Orion is rising in the east, along with the other summer constellations of Taurus and Canis Major. Mercury can still be spotted low in the west-south-west during the first week of October, while Saturn is below Scorpius and sets around 22:00 NZDT. Mars continues to hang halfway up the western sky after dark. Comet Siding Spring C/2013 A1 passes within 138,000 kilometres of Mars on the 19th-20th, and may be visible in binoculars from Earth. Approaching Mars from above as seen from the southern hemisphere, it is 4.4 degrees away on the 15th, then passes beneath it and moves to the lower left of the globular cluster NGC 6401 on the 20th. Uranus is in Pisces, to the north-east, and Neptune is in Aquarius, higher in the north, but neither can be seen with the naked eye. Jupiter is the brightest planet currently in the sky, and rises in the north-east around 04:30 NZDT at the beginning of the month, its largest moons visible in binoculars.

Pegasus, the Winged Horse, straddles the northern horizon in the evening. Identified by a large square of stars, its brightest member is the orange supergiant Epsilon Pegasi, or Enif, named after the Arabic word for the Horse's nose. Nearby is the M15, which may be the densest globular cluster in our Galaxy. With a magnitude of +6.2, it appears as a fuzzy glow in binoculars, while a telescope can pick out chains of stars radiating out from the core. M15 also contains the planetary nebula Pease 1, the first such object to be found within a globular cluster. At magnitude +15.5, a telescope of 30 centimetres in aperture is required to see it. Alpheratz, the star at the bottom of the Great Square of Pegasus, is a great place from which to star-hop to the Andromeda Galaxy, which appears near the northern horizon in southern hemisphere skies only at this time of year. To find it, move along the uppermost of two chains of stars that extend east from Alpheratz, pass Delta Andromedae, turn sharp right at Mirach, carry on to Mu Andromedae and then go the same distance again to the galaxy. At 2.5 million light-years' distance, it is the most distant object normally visible to the naked eye from Earth.


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The Night Sky This Month is one part of the Jodcast. The full show contains the latest news, interviews with astronomers, answers to listener questions and more.

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