STARGAZING IN ZION IN OCTOBER
October 1st is the “International Observe the Moon Night”. So, let’s chat about our steadfast companion the Moon a little and ask ourselves: how well do you know something that you see almost every day and night throughout the month?
Let’s start with the simplest of lunar observations: the moon phases. As the Moon orbits the Earth in 29.5 days, the angle of sunlight hitting the near side waxes (increases) or wanes decreases. When the Moon is in the new moon phases it is between the Sun and the Earth, and you cannot see it. That is the official start to the lunar month. When the Earth is between the Moon and the Sun and the Moon is opposite the Sun in the sky (the moon rises when the Sun sets), then we have a Full Moon. In between we first and last (or third) quarter Moons when we see the Moon half full. Peek below to help imagine the monthly moves:
Moon phases and the moon the Moon’s position throughout the month. Credit: Starry Night.
One of the best ways to learn about the Moon phases is to keep a Moon journal throughout the month and jot down your observations. After that, you’ll be a lunatic, a lunar expert.
Let’s touch on one of the greatest
misconceptions about the Moon: full Moon’s don’t make werewolves. Ok, that’s a joke, they don’t exist but what also does not exist is the dark side of the Moon (thanks Pink Floyd for confusing A GENERATION of people). We always see the same side of the Moon, which is called the near side. That can either be the day side (full Moon) or night side (new Moon). If you look at the image above then during the new Moon phases the side that we do not see, the far side, is the day side and illuminated and DEFINITELY not in the dark. Correct? Now, the Moon is considered “tidally locked” which means its orbital period matches its rotational period. So, the Moon orbits the Earth once a month but also rotates on its axis once a month! If you don’t believe us, get one of your kids or grandkids and play Earth and Moon together. We did this once to convince a grandpa and after we did, he fell out of the sky (pun intended) and said he has to go tell his coworkers on Monday! He was so excited and that’s why we love what we do.
Here is the Moon through the eyepiece of one of our telescopes.
Here is the Moon through one of our telescopes with a camera.
And here is the Moon during a total lunar eclipse. There will be one coming up on November 8th this year which can be observed in the US but you gotta be up after midnight.
If you want to gorge on more lunar stuff, like the names for the different full Moons or actually see the far side, you can visit the Royal Greenwich Observatory, where Newton was the Astronomer Royal or go to our friends at NASA, who put a man on the moon in 1969. Lastly, NASA wants to put a woman and a person of color on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis Mission so keep looking up at our natural satellite!
Night Sky around 10 PM on October 15. Source: Stellarium
The Big Dipper continues to dip in the evenings in the North. For our latitude, it is barely grazing the horizon. The Little Dipper keeps pouring water into the Big Dipper only for the BD to pour it out over us in April for April Showers! If you look towards the West the core of the Milky Way next to the spout of the Teapot (Sagittarius) continues to move out of the sky. It was a glorious season, and we can’t wait to have you back next year. But there is plenty of the Milky Way to see still! In the East Taurus the Bull continues to rise together with the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters (Subaru in Japanese). If you wait long enough, you’ll be able to glimpse Mars. Aldebaran, an orange giant, is the eye of Taurus and you can’t miss it if you find the belt of Orion and follow the three stars. We’ll talk about Orion next month!
Saturn and Jupiter continue to move through the Southern sky as the month and Autumn progress. We still are in awe every time we see them in the telescope. Mars will be viewable in the later evening hours in the constellation Taurus, next to its horns. Mercury can be seen in the early morning hours. We must wait for Venus until December to appear in the evening again.
Astronomical Dates and Times:
First Quarter: October 3
Full Moon: October 9 (Hunter Moon)
Last Quarter: October 17
New Moon: October 25
Astro Twilight End October 1 (Virgin, UT Mountain Time): 8:42 PM
Astro Twilight End October 15: 8:22 PM
Astro Twilight End October 31: 8:03 PM
Meteor Showers: Orionid meteor shower — peaks October 20-21. About 20 meteors per hour. Remnant of Halley’s Comet.