Article as first published in The Shetland Times October 2000


The Sun has passed below the celestial equator; the Autumn equinox has passed. This month sees the last of the Summer constellations and the appearance of the Winter ones.

Sun Moon

Rise Set Rise Set

1 7:11am 6:36pm 11:41am 8:09pm

15 7:45am 5:55pm 7:07pm 10:06am

30 8:23am 5:13pm 11:57am 6:53pm

The Moon is full on the 13th so either end of the month is best for looking at the night sky with the Moon out of the way.

The planets, Jupiter and Saturn are still visible to the East at about 9pm. They are in the constellation of Taurus. Jupiter is the brighter planet to the North with Saturn not as bright to the South.

On the 17th the Moon passes close by but is nearly full so it will probably drown out the background stars. Even so a good photograph of the Moon and the two planets can be had from the 15th to the 18th.

The summer triangle

During October if you look straight up into the sky after it gets dark you will see a large triangle of bright stars, Deneb, Vega and Altair. Patrick Moore named these as the 'Summer Triangle' and if we were not enjoying the beauty of our long summer evenings this is the area of sky we would be looking at.

Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation of Cygnus, Vega the brightest in Lyra and Altair the brightest in Aquila.

If you stay outside for more than five minutes, looking towards Deneb, and you are not in a light polluted area you will start to see a fuzzy band. This is the Milky Way, you are looking out on to our galaxy (and if you use last months column you can look at the Andromeda Galaxy as well). Pick up binoculars and that fuzz resolves into stars within the fuzz. Moreover, telescopes show even more stars. Is there anyone else out there?

The weather may be getting colder but don't put those sun loungers and deck chairs away just yet. October has a meteor shower and the best way to watch meteors is lying down. The meteor shower in question is known as the Orionids and lasts between the 16th and the 27th with its maximum on the 21st. It is not the busiest of showers so aim to spend at least half an hour outside on either the 20th, 21st or 22nd, as near to midnight as you can manage. You might see a meteor every five minutes or so.

So wrap up very warm. Take a flask of hot coffee or tea with you. Some observers even take a 'Walkman' to listen to their favourite music! Do not worry about how silly you may look, as it is dark outside. Set up your deck chair to face East. Relax and let your eyes acclimatise to the dark, don't use a torch and then just watch for the swift streaks of light that are caused by the dust from Halley's Comet.



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