We’re coming up on the mid-point between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice – and we’re just letting go of summer! The only reason I mention it now, considering that it is three weeks from the posting date of this column, is that these are the final three weeks of Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), ridiculously known as Daylight Saving Time*, during which, from a stargazer’s perspective, it gets easier everyday to see morning stars, planets and meteors. The morning sky is dark later than it will be when we fall back an hour to Eastern Standard Time (EST).
Sunrise on the 17th is at 7:10; sunrise on the 29th is 7:23. Planet Venus and the bright stars of the Winter Circle shine for all to see until forty-five minutes before sunup and Venus is visible until fifteen minutes before sunrise for all who know where to spot it, leading the sun into the sky. Find dimmer planet Mars above Venus as late as 6 o’clock this week and close to 6:30 at month’s end. On November 5, when we switch to Eastern Standard Time (EST), sunrise will be at 6:30, consequently, Mars will disappear into the sunrise glow by about 5:30am.
When planning on being outdoors at dawn for planet and stargazing, know that being out just an hour earlier may add shooting stars to your experiences of the heavens. Saturday the 21st is predicted to be the peak of the Orionid meteor shower, which is active now through November 7. Details at http://earthsky.org/?p=27937
On the morning of the 17th, treat your eyes to a view of Venus and Mars with the waning crescent moon. New moon occurs on the 19th, followed by a week of waxing crescents in the west shortly after sunset. Sunset on the 17th is at 6:14; sunset on the 29th is at 6:56.
The Great Square of Pegasus is one of distinct delights of autumn nights; see it in the east as darkness falls. Look up and to the right to encounter another perfect geometric pattern: the great Summer Triangle is still prominent, though leaning toward the west as cold weather arrives.
Below the Great Square, find two bright stars low to the horizon. Deneb Kaitos, left, marks the tail of the constellation Cetus the Whale, also known as the Sea Monster. The brighter star, to the right, is Fomalhaut, Arabic for “mouth of the fish”. Both the Whale and the Southern Fish are otherwise composed of stars of lesser magnitude, visible only in dark sky locations. Although not the brightest stars in the heavens, Fomalhaut and Deneb Kaitos are riveting objects in the autumn sky.
Orionid meteor shower details http://earthsky.org/?p=27937