Heads UP! for October 2010

*Jupiter Rules
*Venus Blazes Way Down in the Southwest
*EPOXi Visits Comet Hartley2 – Will You See It?
*It Stays Dark Early These Days
*Other Sights

Jupiter Rules!
That strikingly bright object rising in the east after sunset is the planet Jupiter, dominating the night from sunset to sunrise this month. Dig out that small telescope or binoculars or borrow one! Very close to the planet, from hour to hour, the four bright moons first described by Galileo shuttle back and
forth as they revolve around the planet. Even in a small telescope, Jupiter has a brownish band off to one side of the center of planet. Usually there are two, so who knows, maybe you’ll see the second band reappear this month or next. Every 10 hours Jupiter’s rapid rotation brings the Great Red Spot into
view. For many decades, it’s been more of a Faded Pink Spot, so that’s why you should get out to a local star party, since most people need a telescope of four inch diameter or larger to see it. In a larger scope, the four moons seem more like tiny worlds than star-like points of light. But check out Jupiter
and its moons, even in a pair of binoculars they are neat to see. As a bonus, the planet Uranus, about as bright as one of Jupiter’s moons, is off to the left of Jupiter this month. You may be able to get them in the same field of view in binoculars.

Venus Blazes Way Down in the Southwestern Sky
After Jupiter, what else is there this month? Maybe you’ll notice that blazing bright object
slowly setting in the southwest, to the left of where the Sun just set. You have to go down, way down into the depths of the post-sunset solar glare to find Venus, glaring back at you. Venus is so close to the sun and in the depths of haze near the horizon that it is hard to see its crescent phases as it swings into the Sun’s glare, going out of sight, passing below the Sun’s position in the sky on the 29th. If you see Venus in binoculars, Mars is nearby. Binoculars and a clear horizon are needed to see the Moon, Mars and Venus in the same view on the 9th. It’s worth a look, but Venus drops down to the horizon only 25 minutes after sunset. Surprisingly, Mars hangs out in the bright twilight for a couple of months.
Mercury joins Mars for a binocular-only view in late November and early December. Do you care that Neptune is too faint to see without good binoculars or a telescope? It’s feeling neglected in the southern sky after sunset. You’ll need a good star chart to find it, since it is tiny even in a telescope.
Saturn is behind the sun this month.

EPOXi Visits Comet Hartley2 – Will You See It?
You’ll need your binoculars to see Comet Hartley2 as it passes under the ‘W” of Cassiopeia. Hartley2 will pass only 11 million miles from earth on the 20th, but it is a small comet, and its dust will be spread out over the sky nearby, making it harder to see. But your binoculars, with their wide view and low magnification, will give the best view. You’ll need a star chart to know where to look. The Deep Impact observation spacecraft will pass 600 miles from Hartley2 on November 4th. It won’t impact the comet, since it’s impacter probe was used on another comet. So, the mission has been rechristened the combined “Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI) and the Extrasolar Planet Observation and
Characterization (EPOCh)” mission. Sticking these two names together, they call it “EPOXi”. (Who makes up these names?) You can compare your observations with the EPOXi’s photos.

It Stays Dark Early These Days
(With apologies to Yogi Berra.) Early morning commuters are starting to notice how dark it is
waiting for the bus or train. Thanks to Daylight Time, it’s getting really late in the morning. At our latitude, the latest sunrise astronomically occurs around the time of the winter solstice, with the latest sunrise occurring about 7:20am Standard Time. But by late October, sunrise will occur after 7:20am Daylight Time on our clocks, with the darkest morning to be on the last morning of Daylight Time with sunrise at 7:30am on November 6th.
If you’re one of those early morning risers, Mercury is low in the twilight for a few days early in the month – compare it to Regulus a little higher up. The Moon joins them on the 4th. Saturn passes Mercury on the 8th, in very bright twilight.

Other Sights

After dark, after 8pm at the start of the month and after 7:30pm by the end of the month, lay
back on a bench or lounge chair to gaze at the star fields and dust clouds of the Milky Way now overhead, marked by the Cygnus, aka the Northern Cross. Binoculars will show many more stars. Look for the places where there are not as many stars – that’s where dust clouds, too dark for us to see, block out the stars behind them. Sometimes you can see something only when you can’t see something else (sorry Yogi!).

The International Space Station, with three to six souls on board, is brighter than Jupiter on its passes over us – in the morning twilight through the 20th and in the evening from the 25th through mid-November.

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