What’s in the sky tonight?

Zululand Observer - Weekender - - ZO NEWS - Derek Fish

AS WE shake off win­ter, Oc­to­ber pro­vides us with the last op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve the cen­tre of our Milky Way Gal­axy, be­tween the con­stel­la­tions of Scor­pius and Sagit­tar­ius (in the western sky af­ter sun­set).

By mid-month, the bright red star Antares in Scor­pius will set a few hours af­ter sun­set, just as the South­ern Cross starts to dip be­low the south­ern hori­zon.

In the south, the Large Mag­el­lanic Cloud (LMC, a ‘neigh­bour­ing’ gal­axy, but an in­cred­i­ble 160 000 light years away!) is just above the con­stel­la­tion Mensa.

This faint group of stars, iden­ti­fied by a French as­tronomer in the mid-18th cen­tury, was named af­ter Ta­ble Moun­tain in Cape Town as the LMC re­minded him of the moun­tain’s oc­ca­sional cloud cover.

In the East, the con­stel­la­tion Eri­danus (the river) winds its way up our night skies, and Pe­ga­sus (the winged horse) be­gins to ap­pear in the North-East, no­tice­able by its ‘great square’.

To­wards the end of Oc­to­ber, the planet Venus changes from be­ing a bright evening ‘star’ to a morn­ing ‘star’ where it will re­main un­til Oc­to­ber next year.

Mer­cury then takes the place of evening ‘star’ as it reap­pears out from un­der the Sun’s glare to­wards month-end.

Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the west af­ter sun­set but set well be­fore mid­night, and Mars can be seen nes­tled within Capri­cor­nus, al­most di­rectly over­head.

The moon will be in the evening sky un­til month-end, with full moon on the 24th.

Unizulu Science Cen­tre is run­ning a spe­cial as­tron­omy pro­gramme for schools in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber.

En­joy their dig­i­tal plan­e­tar­ium and ‘Spin­ning in Space’ show.

Call 035-7973204 to book, or to ask an as­tron­omy-re­lated ques­tion.

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