The constellations of autumn tell one of the grandest stories in the night sky. When Queen Cassiopeia of Ethiopia boasted of her beauty, the sea nymphs convinced the sea god to dispatch Cetus the sea monster to punish her kingdom. To save the country, King Cepheus had their daughter, Andromeda, chained at the seaside as a sacrifice. Andromeda was saved at the last moment when Perseus flashed the severed head of Medusa at the monster, turning him to stone. Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, Cetus, and Perseus all are represented as constellations, while Medusa (and her sister Gorgons) are stars in Perseus.
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In the Sky This Month
October 16: Moving in Step
The Big Dipper is low in the north at nightfall, roughly parallel to the horizon. All but two of its stars—the tip of the handle and the outer edge of the bowl—are members of the Ursa Major Moving Group. The stars were born together and continue to move through space together.
October 17: NGC 3319
NGC 3319, a spiral galaxy a little smaller than the Milky Way, is in Ursa Major, the great bear, which dips low across the northern sky on October evenings. The galaxy is about 47 million light-years away, which is close as galaxies go. That makes it easy to study.
October 18: Orionid Meteors
The Orionid meteor shower should reach its peak in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Unfortunately, the Moon will be just past full then, so its light will drown out all but the brightest meteors.
October 19: Hunter’s Moon
The Moon will be full at 9:57 a.m. CDT tomorrow. As the first full Moon after the Harvest Moon, it is known as the Hunter’s Moon. In ages past, its light helped hunters chase small game across the recently harvested fields.
October 20: Andromeda
The constellation Andromeda’s main figure is outlined by two streamers of stars that form a long, skinny V. It is high in the east and northeast at nightfall and climbs directly overhead by midnight.
October 21: Serpens and Ophiuchus
The constellations Serpens and Ophiuchus are low in the west and southwest at nightfall. Look for the planet Venus, the “evening star.” Ophiuchus and Serpens stretch above and to the upper right of Venus, with the head and tail of the serpent flanking Ophiuchus.
October 22: Mirfak
Perseus the hero strides across the northeast on autumn evenings. It is close to the horizon as night falls, and high overhead after midnight. The figure is outlined by three streamers of stars that intersect at the constellation’s brightest star, Mirfak.
New October 6, 6:05 am
First October 12, 10:25 pm
Full October 20, 9:57 am
Last October 28, 3:05 pm
Times are U.S. Central Time.
Perigee October 8
Apogee October 24
The full Moon of October is known as the Dying Grass Moon or the Hunter’s Moon.