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Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of October 2017
Posted by Guy Pirro on 10/9/2017 9:52 AM

This is the finest possible time, when the rings are at their most open, to observe the detail in the ring system of Saturn. Careful observers might note the thin black line of the Cassini Division, separating the outer A ring from the brighter B ring interior to it. Smaller gaps in the ring system may be visible as well. Note too, that you can follow the outer edge of the A ring all the way around the planet, including along the portion that goes over Saturn's North Pole. Such observations are only possible when the ring tilt is near its maximum. The shadow that Saturn casts on its ring system may be visible behind the planet's disk. This is also a good time to note the cloud belts in Saturn's Northern Hemisphere, as well as any storms or disturbances visible in its atmosphere. We won't see Saturn as inclined to our line of sight again until 2032, when the Southern Hemisphere and the "south" side of the rings will be tilted at their maximum. In the meantime, even without a nearby spacecraft, we can enjoy the show that Saturn puts on for us. (Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)


Welcome to the night sky report for October 2017 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep-sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase, so get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard. In the now famous words of James Marshall Hendrix (apparently a fellow admirer of the heavens), "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."

Evening Planets

Saturn is the highlight of early evenings in October. Find it shining in the southwestern sky, then use a telescope to observe its beautiful rings.

Constellations and Deep-Sky Objects

Pegasus, the great winged horse of Greek mythology, prances across the autumn night sky. His body is denoted by a large area of stars known as the "Great Square." Pegasus hosts 51-Pegasi, the first Sun-like star known to have an extrasolar planet.

The brightest corner of the Great Square, Alpheratz, is also the brightest star in the constellation Andromeda. In Greek mythology, this princess was chained to a rock near the sea to appease a sea monster. Within Andromeda's boundaries, look for M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, an island of billions of stars. On a clear, dark night it appears as a faint smudge of light.

Approximately 2.5 million light-years away, M31 is the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy and the most distant object you can see with your unaided eyes. Binoculars and small telescopes reveal M31's glowing nucleus and spiral arms.

A smaller companion galaxy, M110, appears as a faint spot near the large galaxy. The Andromeda Galaxy is slowly pulling in, and will eventually consume, another one of its small companion galaxies, M32.

Morning Planets

In early October, Mars and Venus rise together in the eastern sky before dawn. The two planets appear to converge on the morning of October 5th but slowly move apart as the month goes on.

Celestial Events

The Orionid meteor shower peaks on the night of October 21st to the 22nd. After midnight, look to the east, where the constellation Orion is rising. Every few minutes you may see a tiny remnant of Halley's Comet burning up high in the atmosphere.

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