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Tonight

Aquarius? Here’s your constellation

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.

Find the Andromeda galaxy on dark autumn nights

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.

Double Cluster in Perseus: Two star clusters

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.

Found Cassiopeia? Now look for Perseus

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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.

Star of the week: Schedar lies at the Queen’s heart

Cassiopeia constellation on Mercator globe.

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.

Cassiopeia the Queen at its best autumn evenings

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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.

Where is the Big Dipper on these autumn evenings?

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.

Shedding light on the moon’s dark side

Mark Gregory

If you stay up late on October 12, you’ll see a moon that looks about like this. Image via Flickr user Mark Gregory

It’s true there is a far side of the moon – a side that remains hidden from Earth. But the moon doesn’t have a permanent dark side.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014

EarthSky Facebook friend Eddie Popovits caught this Perseid fireball in early August 2014.

EarthSky Facebook friend Eddie Popovits caught this Perseid fireball in early August 2014.

The Orionid meteor shower is next, and this is an excellent year for this shower, because there will be only a slim crescent moon in the sky during the shower’s peak hours. These meteors stem from the most famous of all comets, Comet Halley. They’ll become visible in their greatest numbers on the night of October 20-21, and especially in the dark hours before dawn on October 21. At the peak, from a dark site, you might expect to see about 25 meteors per hour.

Find constellations of the Zodiac in October night sky

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The zodiacal constellations backdrop the pathway of the sun around our sky each year. Since the sun’s path lies within these constellations, you know you can look for the constellations along the approximate path that the sun follows during the day — from east to west across your southern sky. Not only do the sun and planets travel in front of the constellations of the Zodiac — so do the moon and planets!