Twice a year, on a Saturday between mid-April and mid-May, and one in October, we celebrate Astronomy Day. The day is determined by how close the Earth is to the first quarter of the Moon. Tonight might be just right for hosting a Star Party, and searching the sky for the planet Jupiter, the constellation Orion, or one of the other many planets, stars and constellations hanging in the night sky.
The Waxing Gibbous Moon. The Gibbous Moon is the phase of the moon when she appears larger and brighter. Learn how to watch the stars and planets in the night sky, and come to understand how as our planet orbits, the night sky changes throughout the year. The most obvious place to watch for nightly changes is to learn to watch the phases of the Moon. The moon is in the waxing gibbous stage, at her first quarter square to the Sun. Right now she looks like a half an orange slice as she appears on the Eastern horizon after sunset. Sometimes at this time of the year, the Moon rises in the afternoon, and can be seen against the late-day blue sky in the East. At the same time, the Sun is sinking into the Western sky.
Names for the Moon. The Moon is called by different names in different languages and cultures. She is called Lune (French), Luna (Italian and Spanish), Qamar (Arabic), Manen (Swedish, Norwegian), and Gealach (Irish). In Algonquin, the Moon in October is called Peppewaar, the Moon of the the white frost on grass and ground. Apache call this the Moon of the time when the corn is taken in. The Cree call this Moon Opinahamowipizun (the time when the birds fly south). The Hopi call this Moon, Angaqmuyaw (the long hair moon), and the Inuit call October’s Moon, Tugluvik. Find out what your ancestors called the Moon, and introduce your children and grandchildren to some family traditions, stories, and lore about the Moon.
Venus in the Night Sky. Shortly after sunset, watch for the brightest object in the Western sky, and you will find the planet Venus. Earlier in the month, Venus was near the Moon. Now as the Moon gains in fullness and brightness, and continues her orbit, Venus can be found near another bright star, Antares. Antares is the heart of the constellation, Scorpius. These two bright objects are moving closer and closer, and will be at their brightest on the 16 of October.
Jupiter for Night Owls. For those who are awake in the wee small hours of the morning, before dawn, you will be able to watch Jupiter at her highest shortly before dawn. You can locate the planet Jupiter at about a 90 degree angle from the Sun. Jupiter rises about midnight and reaches her highest point in the sky just before dawn.
What to Look for in Tonight’s Sky.
In addition to the Moon, Jupiter and Venus, you can see a close conjunction (when two planets or heavenly bodies appear to merge in the sky as they move into the same part of the sky) between the planet Mars and Star, Regulus. Early in the morning, before dawn on October 14, you can spot Mars and Regulus through your binoculars. You can spot these two without binoculars, but with them, you can detect the different colors-the red of Mars and the bright blue and white of Regulus. Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation, Leo the Lion. Nearby, you may also spot the part of the sky where the Comet Ison is. With a good telescope, you might be able to see the Comet Ison. Learn more about Comet Ison on the Earthsky site.
Astronomy Night Events. Wherever you are, gather your family together for a night walk to star gaze. If you’re in the City, go to the City Star Party and Telescope Night at Land’s End. Hosted by the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers, this party is free and begins with a telescope clinic and a short lecture. Bundle up and head out to learn more about the night sky. Here in the City we are fortunate that this party is held monthly.
If you’re in Portland, Oregon, OMSI is hosting a number of star gazing events. including a lecture by Astronaut Dr. Don Petit. He will talk about what it’s like to live in space. Petit has been on three trips into space, and has lived for over a year in space. He lived on the International Space Station for 5 1/2 months during Expedition 6.
Wherever you are, tonight would be a great night to bundle up, invite your children and grandchildren out for a walk to spot the stars, constellations, the planets, and the Moon, and share some special time experiencing the beauty of the night sky.