The October Night Sky 2017

Hello and welcome to my first attempt at an Astronotes blog!  My name is Stephen and I’m finding out about our sky as I go during my time here in the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.  So, I hope you’ll join me on our journey through the October night sky.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

I thought I’d try and start with a bit of drama – so the big news is that there’s an asteroid flying close to our little planet on the 12th October!  Well… I say close…  It’s not possible to know exactly how close to Earth asteroid 2012 TC4 (to give it its full title) is going to be get just yet, but the scientists at NASA have stated that it’ll pass no closer than 4,200 miles from Earth — and that in all likelihood it’ll be much further away, up to 170,000 miles in the end up.  Close enough in terms of space, but not so close as to be a cause for any alarm.  So, we’re safe enough, no need to quit work or school, and we’ll be safe from Asteroids for at least the next 100 years according to the good people at NASA.

However, if you are still concerned you can come and see our daily 2PM featuring the soothing tones of Sigourney Weaver on narration duties titled Asteroid: Mission Extreme and it might ease your mind somewhat!  It explains our defences against any threat from Asteroids and also suggests a few practical uses for these mysterious celestial objects in our own pursuit of further space exploration.  But, that’s enough plugs for one blog – we’ll get on with our exploration of the Autumn sky.

October is a great month for star gazing, the darker nights should give us all a bit of extra time to partake in a spot of astronomy and the October sky is full of interesting features for us all to enjoy.  Early on in the month (the 5th to be precise) the sky will be illuminated with a full moon.  This moon is often referred to as the Harvest Moon, and is also known as the Blood Moon, which is pretty appropriate given that we’re heading into Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween, there’s a few spooky constellations that have strange stories to keep an eye on over the next month.

Pegasus is a great constellation for this time of year.  The darkening nights make this an easy constellation to pick out with a pair of binoculars due to its large scale, as one of the largest constellations it’s a great feature for any novice astronomer to look at and get your bearings with the night sky.  Pegasus can even be seen with the naked eye, but if you look at it with binoculars, or better yet, a telescope, you’ll be able to see the immense number of stars contained within the Great Square of Pegasus.

The Great Square of Pegasus makes the belly of the much larger constellation of Pegasus the winged horse from Greek mythology. Located in the South at this time of the year, the best time to go out to view him is later in the evening. Image credit: Heather Taylor, Stellarium

 

The story of Pegasus is, as ever with the Greek mythology that fills our sky, a tale of violence and sorrow.  Pegasus was a mythical winged horse tasked with delivering the severed head of Medusa (who also foaled him according to some interpretations of the mythology – a fairly complex family gathering would follow that in my opinion) to the King Polydectes. Upon viewing the severed head of Medusa, Polydectes turned to stone.

Pegasus didn’t finish there, his job as a warrior and as a courier for somewhat unusual items was put to further use when he was tasked with carrying lightening for Zeus, and he had further dealings with the King of the Gods when Zeus dismounted the winged horse on his way to Mount Olympus.  However, Zeus did make amends by immortalising Pegasus with his own constellation in the sky.

Pegasus is also linked to another constellation with a grim tale to tell, that of Andromeda.  Andromeda borders Pegasus to the North and East and is easy to find once you have discovered the vast constellation of Pegasus.

Contained within the boundaries of the constellation Andromeda, is the Andromeda Galaxy. It is the furthest thing we can see with the naked eye. It is located 2.5 million light years away! Credit: Stellarium/Heather Taylor

Unfortunately, Andromeda’s story is one of hardship and misery.  Andromeda was a great beauty, but her mother Cassiopeia’s (another constellation close by) boasting in regards to her looks offended the nymphs of the sea.  These nymphs (pesky nymphs, eh?) were definitely somewhat sensitive to anything that could be taken as a slight and attacked Cassiopeia’s kingdom of Ethiopia in retaliation.  Andromeda’s father, Cepheus was informed that the only way to save his kingdom was to sacrifice his daughter to Cetus, the sea monster attacking Ethiopia.  She was chained to a rock in the sea (hence the name “The Chained Lady”) and faced a certain demise, until the hero Perseus came to her aid and defeated Cetus with a sword made of diamonds.

It didn’t end all that badly for poor Andromeda in the end up, she and Perseus married and had 9 children together, and according to the myths they even found the time to create the ancient city of Mycenae.  All in, that’s probably a better ending than being devoured by a sea monster because your mother is something of a boaster.

It’s not all doom and gloom as we enter in the Autumnal months and the darkness that comes with the passing of the seasons, as we get an extra hour in bed on Sunday the 29th October.  So, whilst it will make it darker a bit earlier, it’s great for any astronomers who want to get their star gazing finished at a more reasonable hour than in the summer months.

I think I’ll call it a day for this blog and hope I haven’t blathered on too much.  If you have any queries about the Autumn sky do pop in and we’ll do our very best to help you.  Thanks for taking the time and I’ll see you all soon.

Article written by:

Stephen
(Education Support Officer)