Tuesday, July 23, 2024

October Skywatch Highlights: ‘Ring of Fire’ Eclipse and Hunter’s Moon

The sky of October is full of myths and legends and bright planets and other cosmic delights. Crisp evenings offer clear skies and cool temperatures to stargazers. Highlights include the “Ring of Fire” solar eclipse on October 14 and the Hunter’s Moon two weeks later.

A ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse

On October 14, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun, obscuring much of it but leaving a brilliant ring, or ring, of unfiltered sunlight. This is called a “ring” or “ring of fire” solar eclipse.

Viewers along a path that stretches from Oregon through the Four Corners region to the southern Texas coast will see the moon gradually eclipse the sun until the dark lunar disk is surrounded by a fiery ring.

Although only those in the eclipse’s centerline will see the ring of fire, all residents of the lower 48 states will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse. If you are closer to the center line, the disk of the Sun will be obscured by the Moon.

In Washington, the partial eclipse begins at noon on the 14th, with maximum eclipse occurring at 1:19 PM Eastern. At this time, about 30 percent of the Sun’s disk is obscured by the Moon. The eclipse ends at 2:39 p.m

Because the Sun is not completely blocked during this eclipse, special eye protection should be used to avoid permanent damage while viewing it.

If you want to see the full view of a total solar eclipse where the moon completely covers the sun and reveals its subtle light The Sun’s atmosphere or corona, you have to wait until spring. On April 8, 2024, the next “Great American Eclipse” will cross the central and northeastern United States.

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Ride with the hunter’s moon

The Moon begins the month rising in the late evening near Jupiter. The first week of October sees our natural satellite pass through the brightest stars of the winter constellation before moving on to the rising stars of the spring sky.

The moon is not in the sky during the middle of the month when the solar eclipse occurs. But it waxes back to its full phase on the 28th at 4:24 PM ET. Early risers on the 5th will find the Moon near the bright star Pollux, while the Moon makes a dazzling visit to Venus in the pre-dawn sky on the 10th. The Moon visits Saturn on the evening of the 23rd and reunites with Jupiter on the 28th.

The October 28th Full Moon is widely known as the Hunter’s Moon, and it shares the same orbital geometry that produced last month’s Harvest Moon. Again, the shallow angle of the moon’s orbit with respect to the eastern horizon causes successive moonrises to occur simultaneously. As the fields have already been harvested, there is little protection for birds and animals, and hunters take advantage of the light of the rising moon to continue their quarries.

The autumn sky brings into view an interesting constellation of constellations, all characters from one of the great legends of ancient Greek mythology. You can see these constellations in the northeast sky around 10 pm in mid-October.

Start your search by finding a small group of stars that resemble the letter W. These stars represent Cassiopeia, the mythical queen of Ethiopia. She often gazed at herself in the mirror and boasted that her beauty surpassed that of the sea nymphs, the divine daughters of Neptune. Naturally, this ruffled some feathers with a man’s pride, hence Neptune He demanded due compensation in the form of sacrifice. However, the victim would be Cassiopeia’s daughter Andromeda, who was chained to a rock to be swallowed by the sea monster Cetus.

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All was lost until the hero Perseus arrived on his flying steed Pegasus. Perseus had sent Medusa, a monstrous gorgon who had snakes in her hair and could turn people to stone with her gaze. Perseus saw Medusa’s reflection in her polished armor and beheaded her. Upon discovering the bound Andromeda, Perseus aimed Medusa’s severed head at Cetus, who immediately turned into a giant rock. Andromeda and Perseus lead Pegasus to a happy ending, and Cassiopeia learns a valuable lesson in humility.

Cassiopeia’s stars stand above a wishbone-shaped asterism representing Perseus. If you observe closely over a few nights, you’ll notice that the second-brightest star in Perseus appears dim every 2.86 days. Called Algol, it represents Medusa’s evil eye, still winking at us for thousands of years.

High in the southeast you’ll see a large square-shaped constellation representing Pegasus, and between Pegasus and Perseus you’ll see two “chains” emanating from the star in the upper left corner of the square. These were the chains that bound Andromeda to her near destiny.

As for Cetus, he occupies the less starless region of the southeastern horizon, but he has a counterpart on Earth. His rock is the famous Rock of Gibraltar.

Saturn and Jupiter brighten the night as Venus greets the early risers

Saturn, which appears in the southeastern sky after twilight, is easily visible throughout the month. The ringed planet occupies a region of very faint stars, and its yellow light stands out among the fainter galaxies. Saturn is a favorite target for anyone with a telescope, and viewing it inevitably leads to pessimism. The rings are real, however, albeit ephemeral on a cosmic scale. In a few million years, they will no longer exist.

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Jupiter rises gradually each night, and by the middle of the month it dominates the eastern evening sky. It can be a very rewarding planet for small telescope owners, as its four bright moons change their position from night to night. The planet’s disk is large enough to show its dark equatorial cloud bands, and occasionally one can see the Great Red Spot, an Earth-sized storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere that has lasted about 300 years.

The planetary parade ends at dawn, when Venus dazzles early risers with its intense white light. It will grace the morning sky until early next year.

October ends with the traditional “cross-quarter” days โ€” marking the midpoint of the solstices and equinoxes โ€” when spirits roam the night and plead for peace. The nights are only long until the December solstice. Feb. On the 2nd, expect the return of longer days when the calendar rolls over to Groundhog Day, the next quarter-day.

DC-area sky-watching gatherings

Want to see through binoculars this month? Here are some suggestions:

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