Stargazers in Washington eagerly await standard time

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Saturday, October 31, 2009 10:47pm
  • LifeEverett

I love it when we set our clocks back to standard time. For stargazers it meand it’s dark enough right after dinner.

You can go out as early as 7 p.m. Without a doubt, we’re entering the best stargazing season of the year over northwestern Washington. Bundle up and take in the best show in the universe, your universe.

Once again this month, you may want to put serious stargazing off during the first part of this week because of the whitewashing full moon, known also as the hunter’s moon.

You’ll notice that the full moon this time of year takes a lot higher arc across the sky from the east to the west. That’s because the full moon is always on the opposite side of the sky as the sun. The full moon’s path across the sky this time of year mirrors the sun’s high arc across the heavens in late spring.

Once the full moon rises in the evening later this week, you’ll really notice that there are a lot of bright stars on the rise in the eastern sky, especially after 8 or 9 p.m. The later you stay up, the more of these wonderful winter constellations you’ll see.

I call this part of the sky “Orion and his gang” because the majestic constellation Orion the Hunter is the centerpiece. Orion is up by 10 p.m., but before then you’ll see the Pleiades, the best star cluster in the sky, which looks like a miniature Big Dipper.

There are still a few summer constellations hanging in there in the western sky. Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle, Delphinus the Dolphin and a few others are slowly migrating to the west a little more each night, making a slow exit from the celestial stage.

In the high southern sky is the primo autumn constellation, Pegasus the Winged Horse, with Andromeda the Princess tagging along. Turn around and face north and you’ll see old friends like the Big Dipper, barely above the horizon with the Little Dipper hanging by its handle higher in the northern sky.

Cassiopeia the Queen, the constellation that looks like a giant sideways W, is proudly showing off her stuff in the high northeast sky. The W outlines the throne of the Queen, and Cassiopeia is tied up in that throne. She really ticked off Hera, the queen of the gods, by proclaiming that she was even more beautiful than Hera’s godly self. So Hera threw Cassiopeia up into the sky, eternally bound to her throne for all to see.

Jupiter, which has been regaling us since early summer, now starts out the evening moderately low in the southern sky. Jupiter and Earth are drawing farther and farther away from each other, now separated by nearly 450 million miles.

Despite that distance Jupiter is still by far the brightest starlike object in the evening sky and is a worthy recipient of a gaze with even the smallest of telescopes.

Later on this month, the Leonid meteor shower could put on quite a show. It will peak out for us in the early morning pretwilight skies. You may see 50 to 100 meteors or “shooting stars” an hour. I’ll have much more on the Leonid shower later on this month in this column.

Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of the book, “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores and at his Web site www.lynchandthestars.com.

The Everett Astronomical Society welcomes new members. Go to www.everettastro.org/.

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