The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

NIGHT SKIES

Placitas star party coming up

On Saturday evening, October 22, The Albuquerque Astronomical Society will take advantage of the relatively dark skies of Placitas and hold a star party for the public, hosted by Las Placitas Association. Sunset will be at about 6:22 p.m. MDT, so serious observing will begin around 7:45.

Weather permitting, many of the heavens' most popular "show stoppers" will be up there waiting for us. Among them will be the lovely double star Albireo, often called the Cub Scout Star, the double-double star Epsilon Lyrae, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, the Great Andromeda Spiral Galaxy, and the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, open cluster.

As a special bonus, Mars will be just about the closest it will be to Earth for many years to come, offering excellent viewing opportunities.

The star party will be at the Homestead Village Shopping Center, on NM 165, 2.3 miles east of I-25, Exit 242. (Please park at a distance from any stores that are still open.)

Flashlights will come in handy, but should be used only sparingly in the observing area and always pointed at the ground, to minimize the effect on the night-vision adaptation of the people nearby.

The observing area is just east of the actual shopping center itself, along a short dirt road, where TAAS, a nonprofit educational society, will be setting up several telescopes, including large-aperture instruments, which reveal deep-sky objects in all their splendor.

There is no charge for admission. For more information, visit www.taas.org or call the message line, at 254-TAAS.

October Night Sky diagram

October night sky diagram

Be a considerate neighbor: Shield all your outside light fixtures downward (or turn them off completely) and enjoy the beautiful, starry night sky.

Night Sky October 2005
–CHARLIE CHRISTMANN

Sunspot 798

Sunspot 798

ACTIVE SUN

Even though the eleven-year solar cycle is supposed to be near its low point in 2005, the Sun became very active in September. During the first half of the month, there was a series of seven major solar flares, including two on Saturday, September 10, that caused disruptions to high-frequency communications on Earth.

There is an upside to big solar flares. Large flares aimed toward Earth can cause some spectacular auroras. X-class flares can even allow us in New Mexico to see the northern lights. On the evening of September 10, the northern lights were visible as far south as northern Arizona (see www.schursastrophotography.com/latest76.html for pictures). Perhaps someone in New Mexico saw them as well.

Sunspot 798 has rotated around the Sun and is no longer on the visible disk of the sun. But who knows, sunspots can develop unexpectedly and quickly. Keep a bookmark in your browser to www.spaceweather.com. That Web site is a great source for solar information.

SMALL TRIO

Overhead in October about 9:00 p.m. are three of the smallest constellations lined up in the sky: Sagittia, Delphinus, and Equuleus. These are among the original forty-eight constellations named thousands of years ago.

Sagittia is a very small constellation lying south of the Fox, Vulpecula, and north of the Eagle, Aquila. As a matter of fact, Sagitta is the third-smallest constellation in the sky. Its shape clearly shows an arrow flying towards the Swan, Cygnus. There are several myths about this arrow. It may be an arrow shot by Apollo to kill the Cyclops. Perhaps Hercules shot it at the Stymphalian birds. Perhaps he shot it at the eagle, or vulture, that perpetually gnawed Prometheus's liver. Perhaps it is one of Cupid's arrows. Trace it backwards, and you find it comes from Hercules. Either way, it is an old constellation, and many cultures have seen an arrow in its five stars.

Delphinus is the ancient constellation of the Dolphin. It can be found just west of Pegasus. It is most likely that the constellation is associated with Poseidon.

Equuleus, the Little Horse, is another ancient, and unremarkable, constellation that represents a small horse's head and shoulders. It lies between Pegasus and Delphinus and ranks ahead only of Crux in size. There are several possible mythological identities for this constellation, amongst them that it represents Celeris, the brother of Pegasus. With regard to the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, it has been identified as the horse given to Castor by the god Hermes and, alternatively, with the animal given to Pollux by Hera.

STAR PARTY

Don't forget the Placitas Star Party on October 22. The annual event is sponsored by the Albuquerque Astronomical Society and the Las Placitas Association. This popular public stargazing event features night-sky observing through a variety of large telescopes at a dark site just north of Albuquerque. Weather permitting, the public will be able to view planets, as well as deep-sky objects such as star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae.
[For more information, see Signpost article below.]

THE PLANETS AND MOON

• Mercury—Look low on the western horizon on October 1. If you are lucky and have good eyes, you might catch a glimpse of Mercury just below Jupiter soon after sunset. They will set together on October 5. Mercury disappears into the sun early in October and will move to the morning sky by the end of the month.

• Venus shines brightly low in the southwest after sunset. The Moon slides past Venus on October 7.

• Mars rises in the East about 10:00 p.m. early in the month ahead of the Pleiades. Look for it to rise around 7:00 p.m. later in the month. Mars can be seen next to the nearly full, but waning, Moon on October 19. Mars will be nearest to the Earth in our orbits on October 29. (This is not as close as we have ever been.)

• Jupiter is very low in the western setting sun. It will dive into the glare of the Sun and be out of the night sky.

• Check for Saturn well after midnight, rising in the east. The crescent Moon passes Saturn on October 25.

• The Moon is new on October 3 and full on October 17. There will be a partial eclipse of the moon on October 17. Mid-eclipse will be at 6:04 a.m. MDT.

• Look for strange-shaped objects flying through the sky on October 31, and approach them carefully only if you dare.


 

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