Given clear skies, everyone around the world can see the waning crescent moon pairing up the brilliant planet Jupiter on October 18 – that is, if you’re willing to get up in the wee hours before sunrise. If you’re up before dawn, you might also see Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion, near the moon and Jupiter.
Rising times of the moon and Jupiter into your sky
At present, Jupiter is in front of the constellation Leo, near the Leo-Cancer border. The faint constellation Cancer lies to the west of Leo. Throughout October and November, Jupiter will be moving eastward in front of the backdrop stars, onward toward the star Regulus. But, starting in December 2014, Jupiter will change direction, to move in retrograde (westward), going away from Regulus, and toward the constellation Cancer. Jupiter will enter Cancer in early February 2015, to stay within Cancer’s borders until early June 2015.
You can’t miss Jupiter. It’s the bright object near the moon from the wee hours after midnight tonight until the hours before Friday’s dawn.
The constellation Auriga the Charioteer and its brightest star Capella are easy to identify in the northeast by mid-evening. If you don’t see them, try looking a bit later at night – especially if you live in the southern U.S. If you’re unsure whether you’ve identified Capella, you can always look nearby for a small triangle of stars. Capella is sometimes called the Goat Star, and this little triangle is known as The Kids.
Aquarius the Water Bearer is a constellation of the Zodiac, which means the sun, moon and planets all occasionally or regularly pass within its boundaries. It’s a big constellation and has long been associated with water. This constellation has no particularly bright stars, and you will need a dark sky to pick it out.
The Andromeda galaxy (upper right of photo) as seen by EarthSky Facebook friend Ted Van at a Montana campsite.
You might be able to find the Andromeda galaxy just by looking for it on a dark, clear night. Otherwise, try star-hopping from the Great Square in the constellation Pegasus.
The Double Cluster is also known as h and Chi Persei. It resides in the northern part of the constellation Perseus, quite close to the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen. If you have a dark sky and find Cassiopeia – which is easy, because the constellation has a distinctive M or W shape – be sure to look for Perseus, too. Then just scan with your binoculars between them. The Double Cluster – a breathtaking pair of clusters, each containing supergiant suns – will be there. Follow the links inside to learn more.
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, try looking northeast this evening for two prominent constellations, Cassiopeia and Perseus. The easier to see will be Cassiopeia, which has a distinctive M or W shape. Cassiopeia represents a queen in ancient mythology, and is one of the most famous constellations in the sky. You’ll see it in the northeast this evening, and higher up in the evening sky in late fall and winter.
Cassiopeia constellation via the Mercator globes at the Harvard Map Collection via Wikimedia Commons. On star maps, the Queen is often depicted as hanging upside down, in punishment for her vanity.
Are you familiar with the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen? If so, then you know it is one of the easiest-to-recognize constellations, having the shape of an M or W, depending on the time of night, time of year, and your perspective. The alpha star of Cassiopeia is called Schedar. This star marks either the righthand vertex of the W – or the lefthand vertex of the M – in this well known star pattern. Follow the links inside to learn more about Schedar aka Alpha Cassiopeiae.
Tonight, look for the W or M-shaped constellation Cassiopeia the Queen on her throne in the northeastern sky. You can use the Big Dipper to find her, if you look in the early part of the night, when the Big Dipper is low in the northwest. These two star formations are like riders on opposite side of a Ferris wheel. As one rises upward, the other plunges downward, and vice versa.
View larger. | The Big Dipper in the northwest after sunset on an autumn evening. As night passes – if you’re at a southerly latitude – the Dipper will be traveling below your northern horizon for much of the night during the autumn months. This beautiful photo from John Michael Mizzi on the island of Gozo, south of Italy. Thank you, John Michael.
Where is the Big Dipper at nightfall and early evening now? As seen from the Northern Hemisphere, this most famous of star patterns – the Big Dipper – lurks low in the northwest after sunset and quickly sinks below the horizon for those at southerly latitudes. It’s tough (or impossible) to spot the Big Dipper in the north on autumn evenings. But the pattern is visible all night from northerly latitudes, albeit low in the sky. And, before dawn around now, we’ll all find the Big Dipper ascending in the northeast.