David L. Richards
October brings us two meteor showers and a lunar eclipse.
At moonrise at about 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, the penumbral eclipse is already in progress. But a penumbral eclipse so faintly darkens the lunar landscape, the difference in brightness is all but impossible to observe.
The first meteor shower, the Draconids, peaks on Oct. 8. This shower is unique in that you should begin looking for meteors as twilight comes on, not in the early morning hours. On Oct. 21, the Orionids peak, but the almost full Hunter’s Moon will blot out all but the brightest meteors.
On Tuesday, Jupiter rises 40 minutes after midnight, and is October’s “morning star.” Mars rises at 3:25 a.m., four hours before sunrise. On the night of Oct. 14, Mars is only 1 degree away from Regulus, the heart of Leo, the Lion. Jupiter and the waxing gibbous moon are separated by only 5 degrees.
Mercury sets at 7:53 p.m. on Tuesday, followed by October’s “evening stars” Saturn, setting at 8:37 p.m. and Venus, setting 14 minutes later. Saturn will become lost in the sun’s glare late in the month.
On Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m., Saturn, Mercury and a two-day-old waxing crescent moon sit on the west-southwest horizon — all within the field of a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars.
Mid-month you might be able to spot Uranus and Neptune. At 10 p.m. Oct. 14, place your binoculars so that the moon is right out of the field at the 1 o’clock position. Neptune will be the faint, somewhat greenish spot in the center of the field. Neptune is a bit past the limit of naked-eye brightness, at magnitude 7.85.
On Oct. 17, at the same time, again place the moon right out of the binocular field at the 10 o’clock position, and Uranus, somewhat brighter at magnitude 5.7, will be centered in your binoculars.
Q: Rather than buy an expensive telescope, I would like to start out with a pair of binoculars to study the sky. Which models would you recommend? — D.T., Canton
A: There are as many models of binoculars as there are telescopes. Maybe more. The price range also is wide, and as usual, you get what you pay for. While almost any binoculars will give you a much-improved view of the sky at night, you should expect to pay at least $200 to $300 for a good pair.
At a magnification of 7 to 10 times, you can handhold the instrument; any higher magnification and you will need a tripod. The objective lens (that’s the “50” in a pair of 7 x 50) is measured in millimeters, and 50 millimeters is a good compromise. Any smaller, you get too little light-gathering power. Any higher, and the binoculars become too heavy to handhold.
The definitive answer comes from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Observer’s Handbook: “The Canon 10 x 42L is the single best … hand-held set of binoculars ever created.” These are image-stabilized with a microprocessor, and they are only $1,200. Keep in mind that if you become a birder, you can get twice the use out of them!
Looking Back in Time is showing at the Hoover-Price Planetarium through Nov. 3. Every time you look up at the stars, you are actually looking back in time. We’ll discover just how far you can see into the past.
The program will be shown at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email email@example.com.