Autumn is upon us and the Yukon night skies are at their best. If you head out early in the evening, you will see the summer constellations slowly sinking into the horizon. Alternately, if you stay up until just before sunrise, you’ll be able to see the winter constellations climbing over the horizon. Add in a couple of freezing nights to rid us of those pesky insects, and you’ve got all the ingredients for fabulous viewing.
The best viewing opportunities for the Milky Way will occur under mostly moonless nights, starting on October 7and continuing for a full two weeks. Lets hope for good weather.
The Milky Way can be enjoyed with the unaided eye or binoculars. A reclining lawn chair and a pair of binoculars is great way to explore the Milky Way. Bundle up warm relax and enjoy the view. For an enhanced experience, a wide-field, low-power telescope offers endless views, with star clusters and star chains everywhere you look. Wispy clouds of nebula are everywhere and double stars abound.
In the evening hours, the Milky Way starts in the southwestern sky then sails high overhead and ends in the northeastern sky. Look high overhead and you will see the constellation of Perseus. This constellation is actually in the next spiral arm of our galaxy. (Think of the spiral arms of a galaxy as the blades or fins on a pinwheel. They are made up of stellar dust, stars, entire solar systems, and nebula. It is what makes spiral galaxies so fascinating to observe. If you are looking at the constellation of Cygnus the Swan, also known as the Northern Cross, you are looking into our own spiral arm of our galaxy.)
The fall skies will offer an opportunity to see the entire Milky Way, from our galactic core to the outer spiral arms, all in one evening stretching all the way into the predawn hours. This also presents a premium photo opportunity for any of the constellations that reside in the Milky Way like Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Cygnus. With the new technology in digital cameras, you can lift your ISO from 800 to 3200 and reveal much greater detail in star clouds and nebula.
I am a big fan of pairings of celestial objects. For example, a planet and a deep sky object like a star cluster or nebula make for a great view. These happen more often than you would think, and usually involve Venus, Jupiter, the Moon, the Pleiades Star Cluster, or a bright star.
In the early morning hours on October 3, the Moon, Venus, and the bright star Regulus (in the constellation of Leo) make for an interesting sight.
On October 5, in the early morning predawn sky, there is a most impressive sight. Looking low to the south, you will see the constellation of Orion, the Pleiades star cluster, the Moon, Jupiter and the bright star Aldebaran. If we are lucky and can see low enough to the horizon, Sirius should be visible as well. All these celestial objects are clustered in a relatively small region of space making for a most memorable photograph.
If you are up early in the morning on October 12, then look to the east. There, you will see the brilliant planet Venus, the crescent moon, and the bright star Regulus, in the constellation of Leo.
Looking for a challenge? Why not try to spot zodiacal light. It looks absolutely astounding. Zodiacal light is actually the glow of sunlight reflecting off of comet-strewn dust in orbit around the sun in the inner solar system. Spotting it will be a tough challenge, as this event usually takes place at the equator, though it has been spotted at 60 degrees northern latitude. To observe this event, head outside on a moonless night and wait until twilight has sunk into the horizon. Now look for a pyramid shaped glow rising off the horizon.
October’s Yukon night skies offer fabulous viewing, including opportunities to see the dancing northern lights— they have already appeared several times this fall. So dust off your binoculars or telescope and take a look for yourself. See you out there!
October Night Skies
Oct. 3The bright star Regulus in the constellation of Leo and brilliant Venus are less than a degree apart in the morning skies. Best seen with binoculars or telescope.
Oct. 4Jupiter, the Moon, and the bright star Aldebaran make a close gathering in the evening sky. A great photo opportunity.
Oct. 7With moonless night skies for the next two weeks, Milky Way observations are at their best. Another great photo opportunity.
Oct. 8The Draconid meteor shower, best after midnight.
Last quarter moon.
Oct. 12 The crescent moon is 6 degrees below Venus.
Oct. 13 For the next two weeks, Zodiacal light may be visible in the morning skies before dawn.
Oct. 15 New moon.
Oct. 20Orionid meteor shower, best after midnight.
Oct. 21 First quarter moon.
Oct. 29Full moon, also known as the “Hunter’s moon”.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.