By the time the end of October returns, you’ve have dug out the coat you threw in the cupboard 6 months ago and your trusty flask is once more seeing the starlight. The New Moon occurs on October 30th so skies are dark all night and with the clocks going back also you get an extra hours viewing or sleep.
The nights are definitely longer than the day and you can get in a decent couple of hours observing before the ten o’clock news. Old favourites are back in the sky, over to the west summer is still hanging around in the form of the infamous triangle, looking south the great square of Pegasus dominates high in the sky looking south with the upside down head of the horse and it’s front leg off to the left while it’s body morphs into the daughter of cepheus and cassiopeia chained to the rock awaiting her fate at the hands of Cetus. Glance to the east will see the first of those winter favourites creeping over the horizon, Orion and Canis Major, yep that is Orion you can see sitting on the horizon not long after sunset, the sky seems lacking in brilliant constellations this month but there is still plenty to see.
Look overhead Perseus and the middle star in the W-shape of Cassiopeia. In dark skies, you should see a smudge of light here with the naked eye and this is perhaps the most visited open cluster of them all. While it lacks the sheer brilliance of the Pleiades cluster in our winter skies the Double Cluster eclipses by being… well, a two for one.
NGC869 and NGC884 sit as two separate open clusters less than half a degree apart in the sky and can be easily, and properly, viewed together in the field of view of the same eyepiece. In dark skies these clusters blaze away like jewels against the black background and choosing the right magnification reveals stars in the centre of NGC 869 in the formation of a sword handle – the handle of Perseus’ sword. Pegasus with a relatively easy messier in the form of M15, a bright globular cluster not far from the ponies nose star Enif. Magnitude 6.4, it is 34,000 light years away and has a rich bright centre. NGC7331 is a must for galaxy enthusiasts, a william herschel discovery you are looking at a galaxy often referred to as the Milky Ways twin. It is magnitude 9.5 and is found in the northern part of pegasus, the nearest bright star being eta pegasi. The real challenge out there is a Stephen’s Quintet. Visually a dark sky and a medium to large scope is needed and imagers will need patience. This is a tight grouping of 5 galaxies, the brightest NGC7320 is not actually part of the group and is a chance alignment but will probably be the galaxy you find first. In Andromeda we have the famous M31 galaxy but this tends to be the object everyone looks at in Andromeda so for this month I am going to point you at three other objects. The first is open cluster NGC752. This is below the star Almaak and is a caroline Herschel discovery. in a good sky it is just naked eye visible as a hazy unresolved patch and binoculars or a small scope will reveal around 60 stars. At the other end of the constellation in a patch of sky away from the main body is planetary nebula NGC7662 or the blue snowball nebula. Now this is one of my favourite objects and is indeed a pleasing blue colour, magnitude 9.4 and not always easy to locate but well worth the hunt.
Uranus has been gracing our sky for a while now and over the summer reaches naked eye visibility for those with a good sky. On October 15th the planet reaches opposition and is at it’s closest to Earth for the year. The 7th Planet will be in Pisces and will be magnitude 5.7, faint but most should pick it up in a clear sky and certainly in a pair of binoculars or a small scope.
There isn’t much to see unless you have a large telescope and hunting the moons usually requires imaging. We challenge you to see if you can spot this lonely Ice Giant and remember this was the planet discovered by an amatuer in his backgarden using a 7” scope.
Every October and November the two branches of the Taurid meteor shower become active. The Taurids are not known for their high numbers, rather they are known more for the fireballs they produce. Occasionally there are more Taurid fireballs than normal. 2015 may be such a year. These increased numbers of fireballs are due to the fact that the Earth encounters larger than normal particles shed by comet 2P/Encke, the parent comet of the the Taurids. These fireballs are thought to be active between October 29 and November 10. Luckily, this at time of year the area of which these meteors appear to come from lies above the horizon all night long. During the evening hours Taurid meteors will shoot upwards from the eastern sky. Near midnight they sill shoot from an area high in the southern sky (as seen from mid-northern latitudes). In the late morning hours they will shoot upwards from the western sky. Unlike most meteors, the Taurids are not fast. The fireball class meteors are usually vividly colored and may fragment before they completely disintegrate. Not every meteor or fireball will be a Taurid as there are other minor showers active plus random activity.