Zululand Observer - Weekender

What’s in the sky tonight?

- 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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