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Star Gazing - October 19, 2020


■ Vega is the brightest star very high in the west these evenings. Less high in the southwest is Altair,
not quite as bright. Just upper right of Altair, by a finger-width at arm's length, spot little orange
Tarazed. Down from Tarazed runs the stick-figure backbone of the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. His
wingtips are upraised, in the style of the Eagle Scout emblem. Altair is his sharp eye.

■ Look to Altair's upper left by a little more than a fist at arm's length, and there's the faint little
constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, leaping in the edge of the Milky Way.

■ Delphinus sports some interesting, little-known telescopic objects — from the Toadstool asterism
Thompson 1 near Iota Delphini, to the brightest non-Messier globular cluster in the northern celestial
hemisphere (it's 9th magnitude), to the elusive NGC 6928 galaxy cluster (for big scopes; they're
magnitude 12.2 and fainter). Explore here using the Deep-Sky Wonders column and charts in the
October Sky & Telescope, page 56.


■ The Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east-southeast after dark — still, for now, balancing on one
corner (for the world's mid-northern latitudes).

■ The Orionid meteor shower, modest but definitely there, will be active in the early-morning hours for
several days. It should be at its strongest from about 1 or 2 a.m. until dawn local time both Wednesday
and Thursday mornings. You might see about 10 meteors an hour under excellent dark-sky conditions,
the closer to dawn the better. The Moon will have long set. The shower's radiant is at the top of Orion's
Club, which gets higher through the pre-dawn hours. The higher a meteor shower's radiant, the more
meteors appear in all parts of the sky.

If the late night is clear bundle up very warmly (think radiational cooling), bring a reclining lawn chair to
a spot with an open view and no local lights to get in your eyes, lie back, and look up into the stars. The
best direction to watch is the darkest part of your sky, probably straight up. Be patient. Astronomy
teaches patience.


■ The Moon, nearing first quarter, shines in a line with Saturn and Jupiter. It's to their lower right, as
shown at the top of this page.

■ It's mid-October, so Deneb has replaced Vega as the zenith star after nightfall (for skywatchers at
mid-northern latitudes). And so, necessarily, Capricornus has replaced Sagittarius as the zodiacal
constellation due south.

■ Jupiter's Great Red Spot should transit the planet's central meridian around 8:31 p.m. EDT.


■ Now the Moon forms a rather tight triangle with Jupiter and Saturn, as shown at the top of this page.

■ This is the time of year when the Big Dipper lies down horizontal low in the north-northwest during
evening. How low? The farther south you are, the lower. Seen from 40° north (New York, Peoria,
Denver) even its bottom stars twinkle nearly ten degrees high. But at Miami (26° N), the entire Dipper
skims along out of sight just below the northern horizon.


■ First-quarter Moon, exact at 9:23 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. By evening, about half a day later (for
North America), the Moon's terminator will have become just a little bit convex. The Moon will shine in
dim Capricornus left of Jupiter and Saturn at dusk, and upper left of them as the evening grows late.

■ Jupiter's Great Red Spot should transit Jupiter's central meridian around 7:10 p.m. Pacific Daylight
Time. (The West Coast is having its good view of Jupiter around then.)


■ The Moon, a day and a half past first quarter now, shines in Capricornus. It forms the top of a very
wide, flat, almost isosceles triangle with Fomalhaut, about two fists to the Moon's left and a little lower,
and Saturn, about two fists to the Moon's right and a little lower. (Brighter Jupiter shines a bit beyond

Fomalhaut and Saturn balance at the same height around 9 p.m. daylight-saving time, depending on your

■ The Ghost of Summer Suns. Halloween is approaching, and this means that Arcturus, the star sparkling
low in the west-northwest in twilight, is taking on its role as "the Ghost of Summer Suns." What does this
mean? For several days centered on October 25th every year, Arcturus occupies a special place above
your local landscape. It closely marks the spot where the Sun stood at the same time, by the clock, during
hot June and July — in broad daylight, of course!

So, as Halloween approaches every year, you can see Arcturus as the chilly ghost of the departed summer
Starry, Starry Night . . .
"I know nothing of any certainty, but the sight of the stars
makes me dream." -Vincent Van Gogh
current night sky over Nashville, TN
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