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 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.
October 29: Evening Star
As evening twilight begins to fade, look for Venus, the “evening star.” It’s the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon. Tonight, it stands farthest from the Sun for its current evening appearance, so it doesn’t set until 8:30 or 9 p.m.
October 30: The Sea
Even on a dark, moonless night, away from the glow of the city, some regions of the sky look dark and empty. One of those regions is the celestial sea—a connected set of constellations with aquatic themes. It ripples across the south on autumn nights.
October 31: Algol
A demon star will look down on any trick-or-treaters tonight. It is called Algol, from the Arabic name Ras al Ghul, which means “head of the demon.” It is in the constellation Perseus the hero which climbs the eastern sky during the evening hours.
November 1: The Crane
Fomalhaut, the “autumn star,” rolls low across the south on November evenings. It’s the only bright star in its region of the sky. From the southern half of the United States, the constellation Grus, the crane, strides below it, low along the southern horizon.
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.