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From time to time, I have highlighted the various major seasonal constellations in hopes that not only will you learn where to look for them in the night sky during the appropriate season, but also that you may find some amusement in the stories behind them.
This week, I thought I might pose a celestial challenge for you, by listing a half-dozen very minor constellations and letting you locate them in the night sky. They should all be relatively easy to spot from a dark site away from city lights under a clear, cloudless sky, once your eyes have dark-adjusted (after about 15-30 minutes, depending on your age). Try spotting them first with your naked eye, but if you can't make them out (or only some of the stars in the constellation), you can use binoculars, if you have any.
If you can't get outside, or if each night is cloudy, become an armchair astronomer for the night, and look them up online via Google (which will also likely provide you with a location chart). First, though, if at all possible, try the challenge with your own eyes.
All the listed constellations will be visible in the night sky during this coming week (weather permitting) between the hours of 8-10 p.m.
Can you find them?
The first constellation to look for is Lacerta - the Lizard, located between Cygnus - the Swan and Andromeda - the Princess (northern sky).
The second is Vulpecula - the Little Fox, between Cygnus and Aquila - the Eagle (west-southwest sky).
Between these two constellations is the third constellation to find, Sagitta - the Arrow.
Number four is Triangulum - the Triangle, between Aries - the Ram and Andromeda (eastern sky). The fifth constellation on the list is Camelopardalis - the Giraffe (and you thought it was the camel), fairly close to the North Star, between Ursa Major - the Great Bear (low on the northern horizon) and Cassiopeia - the Queen (northeastern sky).
The final constellation to find will be Equuleus - the Little Horse/Foal, located to the lower right of Sagitta, next to the head of Pegasus - the Winged Horse (south-southwest sky).
I'll even throw in a bonus constellation (which I wrote about a short while ago), Delphinus - the Dolphin (also in the south-southwest sky, between Vulpecula and Equuleus).
Once you've found all these constellations, perhaps you'll be intrigued enough to search them online to learn how they got their names and how they came to be placed in the night sky. However, if you can't find them online (or perhaps you don't have access to a computer), and do want to know more about them, just email me, and I'll be happy to provide the information.
If it's cloudy this week, look for them next week. Good luck - let me know how you made out.
This week's sky
While you're out looking for the above constellations, you might want to also look for some early evening planets as well. The first two early evening planets to watch for will be Jupiter and Saturn.
Jupiter will be the most readily visible planet, shining at magnitude -2.35 on Oct. 5 (it will be magnitude -2.31 by Oct. 11), 20 degrees (21 degrees by Oct. 11) above the southern horizon around 7:05 p.m. (6:50 p.m. by Oct. 11).
Jupiter reaches its highest point in the evening sky around 7:30 p.m. (7:10 by Oct. 11), 21 degrees above the southern horizon, remaining observable until about 10:50 p.m. (10:25 p.m. by Oct. 11), after which it drops below seven degrees above the south-west horizon.
Saturn (magnitude +0.49; +0.52 by Oct. 11) is visible around 7:20 p.m. (7:10 p.m. by Oct. 11), 21 degrees (22 degrees on Oct. 11) above the southern horizon as dusk fades to darkness. It is highest in the late evening sky 22 degrees above the southern horizon around 8:25 p.m. (7:40 p.m. by Oct. 11), remaining observable until about 11:05 p.m. (10:40 by Oct. 11), after which time it sinks below 10 degrees above southwest horizon.
Mars (magnitude -2.56; - 2.62 by Oct. 11) makes a bright appearance (it's actually brighter than Jupiter now) in the east, seven degrees above the eastern horizon shortly after 8 p.m. (7:35 p.m. by Oct. 11), reaching its highest point 49 degrees above the southern horizon around 1:45 a.m. (1:15 a.m. on Oct. 11), before being lost to the dawn twilight about 7 a.m. (6:50 a.m. by Oct. 11).
Venus (magnitude -4.07; -4.05 by Oct. 11) is visible in the pre-dawn sky, rising in the east around 3:45 a.m. (4 a.m. by Oct. 11). Our "morning star" reaches its highest point 31 degrees above the eastern horizon before fading with the dawn around 7 a.m. (7:10 a.m. on Oct. 11).
Mercury remains difficult to see low in the western sky just after sunset.
Until next week, clear skies.
- Oct. 6 - Mars at apogee (farthest from Earth)
- Oct. 9 - Last quarter moon
Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. He welcomes comments from readers at [email protected].