Click here for Dave's preview of sky events in 2016.
For: October 10-16
At this Thursday’s CU Astronomical Society meeting at the planetarium (7pm), Aart Olson will discuss observing occultations (objects passing in front of other objects) using video. The public is welcome to join us! Saturday night, a nearly full Moon rises about due east just below the Great Square of Pegasus, our main constellation of autumn. As it rises the “square” looks more like a diamond shape. Many liken these stars to a baseball diamond. Those aren’t the Cubs or the Cardinals playing up there, though. In fact, it’s an “all-star team.” Hence, maybe one of the oldest sky jokes in the book! Sunday’s full Moon rises at sunset and is called the “Hunter’s Moon.”
For: October 17-23
At 8pm all this week, look for the rising of the Pleiades star cluster in the east-northeast. Be sure to check out these bluish stars with binoculars and see how many stars you can count. If you’re looking late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, look for a waning gibbous Moon near the star Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the Bull. At about 12:30am Wednesday morning, the bright side of the Moon will pass in front of the star in an event called an occultation. Look with binoculars as the star blinks out. This was our first evidence that the Moon didn’t have an atmosphere. The star reappears from the right side of the Moon at about 1:20am early Wednesday morning.
For: October 24-30
Look in the southwest early Thursday evening for the planet Venus. But Venus has some company on this night. Below Venus is the star Antares, the heart of our celestial scorpion, and, above, is Saturn. They’ll make a vertical line low in the sky. Friday night is a homecoming open house at the UI Observatory at the south end of the Quad. Come and check out the sky and the historic 12-inch refracting telescope. If you are in for a little craziness, the planetarium will offer laser shows this Friday and Saturday night. If you’re into Pink Floyd or Metallica, check us out. The schedule of programs appears on the web site.
For: October 31-November 6
Happy Halloween! Today is a “cross-quarter day,” meaning today is halfway between the first day of fall and the winter solstice. The planetarium will also offer two “Fright Light” laser shows at 7pm and 8pm tonight. Tickets are $8 per person at the door. Wear your costume! Friday night is an important “World of Science” talk for all of us as Jim Dobbins visits to discuss the Zika virus and other vector-borne pathogens. Admission is $2 per person. This is also the last weekend for laser shows – can you say “Floyd” and “Zeppelin?” There is an open house at the CUAS Observatory Saturday night (7pm, cuas.org) if the weather permits. Daylight saving time ends early Sunday morning.
For: November 7-13
This week at roughly 7:30pm, look low in the south for a star that will appear by itself. This is Fomalhaut, the mouth of the Southern Fish. Fomalhaut is the 18th brightest star, 16 times brighter than our Sun. It’s also close at a distance of 25 light year. In 1983 a satellite detected an excess of infrared light from this star. The radiation is emitted from a large disk of dust surrounding the star that extends out to five times the orbit of Pluto! In 2008 the Hubble Space Telescope imaged a planet orbiting this star, the first such photograph of an extra-solar planet. Its mass is roughly three times that of Jupiter and it orbits 177 times farther from Fomalhaut than Earth is from the Sun.
For: November 14-20
Tuesday evening look for a near full Moon rising among the stars of Taurus the Bull. The bull’s face is marked by a V-shape star group and the Moon is at the base of the “V.” Tuesday night also brings a special speaker to the planetarium. Dr. Bruce Fouke and photographer Tom Murphy present on the “Art & Science of Yellowstone Park” at 7pm. Thursday morning brings the maximum of the Leonid Meteor Shower. The Earth will plow through the dust trail left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle resulting in a few meteors in the sky. This shower is powerful every 33 years but, this year, expect no more than maybe 15 meteors per hour in the morning hours. The waning gibbous Moon won’t help!
For: November 21-27
All this week, check out brilliant Venus in the southwest just after sunset. A telescope will show Venus appearing like a waxing gibbous Moon. If you get up early Friday morning, gaze to the southeast for the thin crescent Moon. The planet Jupiter will be above and right of the Moon and star Spica is below. After a long day of shopping, join me Friday night for the opening of “Season of Light” at the planetarium. The show focuses on the holiday traditions and stories that surround the winter solstice, the time of the year when the Sun is lowest in the sky. It is a great time to just sit back, relax, and enjoy our bright winter skies.
For: November 28-December 4
At 8pm all week you can witness the rising of the constellation of Orion, the Hunter due east. Orion and his three belt stars are probably the next most-recognized star group after the Big Dipper. I have vivid memories seeing these three stars as a kid rising above the trees from my home in Decatur. My dad called the belt and the sword stars beneath “the kite.” Friday night, the planetarium welcomes our friend Jim Kaler back to the dome for a “World of Science” talk on “Cosmic Dust.” The talk is at 7pm and admission is $2 at the door. At 9pm both Friday and Saturday, come see Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” the fulldome show.
See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.