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 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.
October 23: Moon and Aldebaran
Tonight, the bright star Aldebaran, which represents the eye of the bull, rises to the lower right of the Moon. By tomorrow night, though, the Moon will have moved so much that Aldebaran will rise farther to its upper right.
October 24: El Nath
El Nath, “the butting one,” is close to the upper left of the Moon as they climb into view this evening. The star marks the tip of one of the horns of Taurus, the bull. Officially, though, it is a member of the adjoining constellation Auriga the charioteer.
October 25: Saturn’s Moons
The planet Saturn is due south at nightfall and looks like a bright star, well to the right of brighter Jupiter. Some of Saturn’s larger moons are visible through small telescopes. They look like tiny stars arrayed close to the ringed planet.
October 26: Ceres
Ceres, the giant of the asteroid belt, is easy to spot right now because it’s close to a prominent star. Through binoculars, it looks like a small, faint star to the lower left of Aldebaran as they climb into good view in the east by 9:30 or 10 p.m.
October 27: Wolf 359
Wolf 359 is one of our closest stellar neighbors, at a distance of just eight light-years. Even so, you need a telescope to pick it out. It is in Leo, which is high in the eastern sky at dawn. The star is well below Regulus, the lion’s bright heart.
October 28: Last-Quarter Moon
The Moon is at its last-quarter phase at 3:05 p.m. CDT, so sunlight illuminates half of the lunar hemisphere that faces Earth. The illuminated portion of that hemisphere will grow smaller each day until the Moon is new.
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.