What’s Up in the Sky
At any moment of the day, countless awe-inspiring celestial events are unfolding in the sky. With a universe of options, it can be hard to pin down what to observe, what to look into or what to remember. Each week, this column will take a peek at what’s happening in the sky and in the world of astronomy in general to provide a quick list of highlights that can jumpstart your own explorations.
What to observe:
Now is an ideal time for observers from 90° North to 60° South to peruse the Pegasus Constellation as it grandly soars across the night sky like the Winged Horse it represents. At 1,121 square degrees, Pegasus is the 7th largest constellation. One of its most prominent features is the Great Square of Pegasus asterism that forms the body of the mythological beast. The four stars that define this popular autumnal asterism are Pegasus’ Markab, Scheat and Algenib and Andromeda’s Alpheratz, which anchors the northeastern corner. In the northwestern corner, observers will find the red star Scheat (Beta Pegasi), which is an irregular variable that is transitioning into a giant. Markab (Alpha Pegasi), which sits in the southwestern corner of the square, is a class B dwarf star with an apparent magnitude of 2.48, and Algenib (Gamma Pegasi) is a nice variable blue star that marks the southeastern point of the Great Square. Although these are the easiest to find of Pegasus’ stars, there are many other stellar treats within the horse’s domain. Just outside the Great Square lies 51 Pegasi. Visible in binoculars, this yellow beauty is similar to our own star and has the distinction of being the first Sun-like star to have a planet discovered in its orbit. Other star targets include Enif (Epsilon Pegasi), a brilliant orange supergiant that will show a reddish hue in binoculars; Eta Pegasi, a binary system with an apparent magnitude of 2.95; Zeta Pegasi, a class B dwarf that exhibits slight shifts in luminosity; IK Pegasi, a binary star that pairs a class A main sequence with a massive white dwarf companion; and Mu Pegasi, a yellow giant with an apparent magnitude of 3.514. In terms of deep sky offerings, one of Pegasus’ standouts is Messier 15. In addition to offering a host of variable stars and pulsars, this globular star cluster is home to Pease 1 – a famed planetary nebula that was the first its kind to be discovered within a globular cluster and remains a rarity. Although the dense cluster lends itself to exploration, you will need a large aperture scope if you hope to see Pease 1. For galaxy hunters, Pegasus also offers NGC 7814, the binocular-friendly, edge-on spiral that is 6.3 arc minutes in diameter and sometimes called the Little Sombrero because it resembles Virgo’s Sombrero Galaxy; NGC 1, a spiral galaxy that was the first deep sky object entered into the New General Catalogue; NGC 7217, a spiral with a 3.7 arc minute diameter and a tight swirling structure; NGC 7742, a face-on unbarred spiral; and NGC 7331, a tilted spiral that resolves into a bright core, wispy arms and nebulous areas in large aperture scopes.
What to look into:
October 12-18 – NASA’s #SkyScience Cloud Study for Earth Science Week
In celebration of the American Geosciences Institute’s Earth Science Week, NASA is making a unique push to grow the global ranks of “citizen scientists” by inviting the public to participate in the agency’s #SkyScience Cloud Study. According to NASA scientists, at any one time clouds cover about half of the planet. Through this educational endeavor, members of the public can aid researchers in validating data collected by orbiting satellites by recording their own cloud observations at times when NASA’s satellites are passing overhead. To find out more information about the study, satellite timing, cloud types and/or sharing your report, visit http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/skyscience/. In addition to the reporting part of the project, NASA is also encouraging participants to post their cloud and sky photos and observation experiences to Twitter or Instagram using #SkyScience or on the agency’s related Facebook, Google+ and/or Flickr pages.
What to remember:
October 12 – 50th Anniversary of the Voskhod 1 Launch
Fifty years ago, the Soviets crossed another goal off their space race checklist with the launch of Voskhod 1. Although this was the country’s seventh manned spaceflight, it was the world’s first spaceflight with multiple crewmembers. On October 12th, 1964, cosmonauts Vladimir M. Komarov, the command pilot; Boris B. Yegorov, a physician; and Konstantin P. Feoktistov a scientist; squeezed into a tight cabin for the historic launch. The space, which had been designed for two crewmembers, did not allow room for the cosmonauts to take full space gear on their journey. This lack of spacesuits and helmets during space travel was another first. During the 16 orbits that Voskhod 1 completed before returning to Earth on October 13th, the mission set a manned spacecraft altitude record of 336 km and became the first to collect significant biomedical data due to the inclusion of a physician on the crew.
October 21 –Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks
October 23 – Partial Solar Eclipse