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Touring the Evening Skies

October 4, 2019
By Jim Bonser (jbonser@usa.net) , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Every now and then I am asked, "What is it about astronomy that excites you so much?" After all, some have said, not much changes from year to year. I have to admit that they are right, M13 looks the same this year as it did the first time I saw it: a fuzzy ball in Hercules surrounded by tiny brilliant points of light against the velvety black background of empty space. M27 - the Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula (pronounced: Vul-PEK-u-la) is another favorite target this time of year. It is fairly bright and relatively easy to find even without the aid of a computerized telescope mount, but like M13, it's appearance in the eyepiece does not change from year to year. So what, exactly, is the draw that makes enduring pesky mosquitoes, damp air and twisting your body into a pretzel worth the views year after year?

Well, for me, their very constancy is part of what draws me back to them time after time. For the first few years as an amateur astronomer, just finding them was thrilling to me. Then, over time as I became more and more familiar with them, I began to be able to see subtle details that I hadn't noticed before and I began to take more time to see if there was anything else I had missed - either in the object itself or in the field around it. Sometimes, I would discover a faint galaxy or a beautiful double star that I had never noticed before. These things had always been there, but I had just not taken the time to notice them.

The thrill of discovery never gets old and that is another of the aspects of this hobby that I enjoy so much: introducing others to the wonder and the beauty of the night sky and all the wide variety of things it contains. It is hard to describe the feeling that comes from showing something new and unexpected to someone who maybe has never looked through a telescope before. I don't think anyone ever forgets their first view of Saturn and its incredible ring system. M57 - the Ring Nebula in Lyra is another unforgettable object. Who would ever guess that there is a little smoke ring nestled between the base stars of the Harp? A little Cheerio, floating not in milk but in space?

Something in the night sky that is constantly changing is the positions of the constellations and the planets that wander through them. In the early evening skies, an hour or so after sunset this month, the Milky Way arches gracefully overhead from south-southwest to the northeast. Directly overhead is Cygnus the Swan which can be identified by the bright stars in its center that make the shape of a large cross - roughly the size of the Big Dipper which is close to the northwestern horizon this month.

Mercury is still too close to the Sun to see this month, but Venus will be visible for a little while each night at dusk. Mars gets far enough from the Sun after October 14th to glimpse it rising ahead of the Sun at dawn. We begin to say farewell to Jupiter this month as it sinks lower and lower in the sky, setting in the early evening. The view through a telescope is still rewarding if the air is steady enough to use some magnification but don't wait too long! Saturn appears in the twilight skies shortly after Jupiter and lingers a little longer but even Saturn is setting before midnight at mid-month.

Finally, the Orionid Meteor shower peaks on the evening of the 21st. It is best to watch for Orionids in the hours before dawn, but a third quarter Moon will wipe out the fainter ones. Even if you aren't willing to get up early to watch and would prefer to view for awhile before going to bed, if you are patient, you will be rewarded with some of nature's fireworks. Let's hope for lots of clear skies this month, so we may all enjoy the changing/unchanging beauty of the night sky!

 
 
 

 

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