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The October 2004 Night Sky

Looking northeast on October 15 at 9:00 p.m.


October 2004 night skies

Charlie Christmann

    A Stellar Chase in the Sky

This month features a big chase scene in the northeastern sky. Auriga, the charioteer, is racing to catch Pegasus, who is running as fast as he can to save Andromeda from the clutches of Cetus, the sea monster. The centerpiece of this chase is Pegasus, who is flying high in the sky this month.

In Greek mythology, Pegasus is the winged horse that was fathered by Poseidon with Medusa. When Medusa’s head was cut off by the Greek hero Perseus, the horse sprang forth from her pregnant body. It was Athena who caught and tamed Pegasus, then presented him to Bellerophon as a gift. Bellerophon became a hero after he killed the fearsome monster Chimera while riding on Pegasus. When Bellerophon boldly attempted to ride to the summit of Mount Olympus, Zeus sent a gadfly to sting the winged horse, which threw Bellerophon off its back. Pegasus then flew off into the heavens, where he is seen this month high in the sky.

While looking for Pegasus in the sky, it is difficult to see the figure as a horse. That is because the constellation is actually upside-down! Imagine it flipped over, and you can see what could be the neck and head of a horse and two legs sticking out from the famous "Square of Pegasus."

This square represents the front half of the horse's body. Mythologists are still not sure what happened to the other half of the constellation, but some believe a part of Pegasus was used to create the image of Aries the Ram. The square is very easy to find in the night sky. The neck and legs of the horse shine brightly on clear nights.

The sixth-magnitude globular cluster M15 is found in the constellation Pegasus. M15 is notable for its collapsed core as well as for its high amount of known variable stars and pulsars. To view it, binoculars and small scopes are sufficient. The cluster appears as a misty patch. A larger telescope is required to see individual stars.

Two meteor showers are associated with this constellation: the Alpha Pegasids are active from October 29 to November 12, and the Upsilon Pegasids are active from July 25 to August 16, with the maximum occurring around August 8.

So, go out and enjoy the action in the sky this month. And, near the end of the month, you might even see a few celestial fireballs streaking off Pegasus as he races to save the fair maiden.

    Eclipses this Month

There are two eclipses that will take place this month, a solar and a lunar eclipse. Unfortunately, the solar eclipse will only be visible to those in the Pacific and parts of western Alaska.

The total lunar eclipse will be an interesting early Halloween treat. On October 27, the Earth's shadow will begin to eat away at the Moon starting at 7:14 p.m. MDT. The totality phase will be from 8:23 to 9:45 p.m. The eclipse will end at 10:54 p.m. Look for the ghoulish reddening of the Moon caused by sunlight filtered through the Earth's atmosphere.

    Where are the Moon and the Planets?

  • Mercury is tough to spot, rising just before 7:00 a.m. in the east early this month and rising later each day.
  • Venus is for the early risers. Look for it in the eastern sky after 4:00 a.m. One to three hours before sunrise on October 3 a stunning conjunction between Venus and Regulus will occur. Regulus is one of the brighter stars in Leo. Venus will be on the right, separated from Regulus by less than one-fifth of a degree.
  • Mars rises at about 6:30 a.m. this month.
  • Jupiter rises in the east earlier each day. Look starting about 6:00 a.m the first of the month. On October 12, there will be an interesting lineup one hour before sunrise. You will find Jupiter near the horizon with the Moon just above it. Then, a bit higher in the east southeast, will be Venus with Regulus above it.
  • Saturn is for those who stay up late. It rises in the east about 12:30 a.m at mid-month. Look for it rising earlier as the days go on.

If you have comments or suggestions, you may e-mail Charlie Christmann at






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