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Galaxy Club

Tonight's Sky

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Click here for Dave's preview of sky events in 2017. 

For: September 11-17

Tomorrow morning early risers may see Mercury low in the east. This is probably the best morning view of Mercury all year. Look below brilliant Venus and a little left. Binoculars will show Mercury, the star Regulus, and Mars in a tight formation. I’m looking forward to the Thursday CU Astronomical Society meeting (7pm, Planetarium) as we’ll conduct a share-a-thon for the August eclipse. Members are encouraged to bring stories, photos and video to share with the community. The public is invited. Saturday evening is a Homer Lake Starwatch beginning with a talk at the Interpretive Center at 7pm and then viewing of the night sky with telescopes shortly after. Join us if the weather permits!

For: September 18-24

This week is “Take A Child Outside” Week and there are many events happening at the Museum of the Grand Prairie, Anita Purves Nature Center and the county forest preserves. As the name implies, parents are encouraged to join their children outdoors. As part of the program, Thursday night, the CU Astronomical Society will be at Meadowbrook Park near the barn on Race Street for a short program at 7:30pm, then telescope viewing (weather permitting) to follow. Friday at 3:02pm, we’ll have the equinox and the first day of fall. Saturday is another open house at the CUAS Observatory ( We may even have our new roll-off-roof building completed by then! Join us for great views of Saturn’s rings.

For: September 25-October 1

Tonight, look in the south-southwest just after sunset for the Moon just to the right of Saturn. Below the Moon is the reddish star Antares, the heart of Scorpius, the scorpion. To the left of Saturn and nearly due south is the constellation of Sagittarius, our celestial centaur and archer, taking aim at the scorpion. Don’t look for a centaur; it looks more like a teapot! From the spout of the teapot and stretching across the sky to the northeast, is the “steam.” In reality, these are the star clouds of the Milky Way, our home galaxy. Unfortunately you have to retreat to a pretty dark, rural location to see the Milky Way. Journey outside of town this week and check it out.

For: October 2-8

Two planetarium events of note this week. Friday night is the opening presentation in our “World of Science” Lecture Series (7pm). We open with three community college students who will report on their summer research as part of the PRECS program. Admission is $2 at the door. Saturday you’re invited to a birthday party! The party is for our star projector who the kids call “Carl.” Carl (short for Carl Zeiss) will be 30 years old this month. The first show to appear on the dome ran on October 22, 1987. Join us for that show, “Odyssey,” this month and show up Saturday (2-5pm) for some cake, a picture with Carl, and sign his birthday card. We are also collecting memories of people’s first experiences at the planetarium.

For: October 9-15

We are approaching the time of year when our familiar Big Dipper is at its lowest in our northern sky. We call the Dipper and other stars in the area “circumpolar” as they never set below the horizon. Not quite halfway up in the north is our north star, Polaris. There are over 40 other stars in the sky brighter than Polaris but many people still think it’s the brightest star in the sky. It is situated above the Earth’s north pole so, as the Earth turns, all the other stars will appear to move, but Polaris stays put. That’s its claim to fame! To the right of Polaris (east) is the W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia. When the dipper is low in the sky, Cassiopeia is higher.

For: October 16-22

Tomorrow morning, early risers might catch a glimpse of a very thin crescent Moon between brilliant Venus (below the Moon) and Mars (just above). Look low in the east an hour before sunrise. At Thursday’s CU Astro Society meeting (7pm, planetarium), I’ll be showing some images from the Rocky Mountain Star Stare. Thursday is also New Moon time, meaning we’ll have dark skies over the weekend for the Orionid Meteor Shower. Each year the Earth passes twice through the path of Halley’s Comet. The comet won’t be back for another 44 years but the dust it left behind may burn up in the upper atmosphere, resulting in a “shooting star.” Look anytime this weekend but the hours before dawn are probably best.

For: October 23-29

Look in the southwest tonight for a crescent Moon, just right of the planet Saturn. Look again tomorrow night, using Saturn as your guide and you’ll notice that the Moon is moving in its orbit from west to east. All this month, Saturn’s rings are angled at 27 degrees to our line-of-sight, the maximum we’ll see. Use a small telescope and look soon after sunset. This weekend the planetarium brings in an AVI laser system for a couple of laser rock shows Friday and Saturday night. Tickets are $8 at the door or listen to win tickets on Classic Rock WKIO. With the first quarter Moon this weekend, the CU Astronomical Society will host another free pubic open house on Saturday night, weather permitting (

For: October 30 – November 5

Tuesday is Halloween, a “cross quarter day,” meaning a day halfway between the first day of autumn and the first day of winter. While you’re out trick-or-treating, be sure to notice the waxing gibbous Moon in the southeast. Join us at the planetarium for two “Fright Night” planetarium laser shows at 7:30 or 9pm. There are more laser shows this weekend, too – see our web site for a schedule. Hey, we’re even doing some country music! We’ll also host chemist and author Theo Gray for Friday’s “World of Science” talk on molecules and chemical reactions (7pm, $2 at the door). A brand new program on the mystery of “dark matter” called “Phantom of the Universe” opens Friday night at 8pm.

See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.