Planetary Power Breakfast
With the advent of northern autumn, the dark morning
sky is a sparkling showcase of bright planets and stars.
October 1, 1999: Autumn has arrived
in the northern hemisphere and the nights are becoming longer.
Many school kids and their parents are rising and shining before
the Sun. Until our clocks revert to Standard Time on October
31, it's a good opportunity to add stargazing to the morning
routine of showers, breakfast, and the dash to the school bus.
Thanks to a bunch of brilliant planets, sparkling stars, and
a slender crescent moon, the morning sky for the next few weeks
will be truly memorable.
Right: Duane Hilton's rendering of Venus, Regulus and the crescent moon on October 5, 1999 as seen near dawn above the White Mountains of eastern California.
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Next week Venus will join the bright star Regulus and the Moon to form a sight that no stargazer will want to miss. On October 3rd Venus and Regulus will be just three degrees apart, but the best show will be two days later on Tuesday the 5th when the very thin crescent moon will form a triangle with Venus and Regulus. From 5:30 to 6:00 am local time, the trio will appear almost due east about 30 degrees above the horizon.
Left: This image depicts the constellation Leo on Oct 5, 1999 as viewed looking east near dawn. The red circle denotes the location of the radiant of the Leonids meteor shower, which will peak on November 17, 1999. Don't expect to see any Leonids in October, but it is a good time to familiarize yourself with the constellation Leo in advance of the meteor shower.
The celestial trio of Venus, Regulus, and the Moon clustered so in the evening sky should be a memorable sight. But there's more: Cradled in the arms of the slim crescent Moon will appear the ghostly outline of the full Moon, a dim glow that astronomers call "Earthshine."
Like all the planets we see in the night sky, including brilliant Venus, the Moon does not shine by its own light. It reflects sunlight. The side of the Moon facing the sun shines brightly, and the side facing away is nearly dark. The only significant illumination on the "dark side of the Moon" is due to Earthshine -- sunlight that bounces off the Earth and falls on the lunar surface. A slender crescent Moon with Earthshine is widely regarded as one of the most delicate and beautiful sights in the night sky.
Before you go inside for breakfast there are a few more planets and stars to admire. Turning from the Venus-Regulus-Moon show in the east and looking south you can see Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, sparkling about 30 degrees above the horizon. Sirius appears just to the lower left of the most brilliant winter constellation Orion the Hunter (see the star chart below). But that's not all. Continue turning to the west and look about 40 degrees above the horizon to see the giant planet Jupiter shining at magnitude -2.9. Jupiter is about 4 times dimmer than Venus, but it's still a wonderful sight as the brightest object in the western sky. Two hand widths above Jupiter is another planet -- Saturn. The ringed planet, widely regarded as the most beautiful world in the solar system, is a bright 0th magnitude object this week with a slightly yellowish color.
The first week of October features a dazzling show stretching across the entire sky. If you absolutely have to wake up to dark morning skies this month, you can turn a problem into an opportunity by enjoying a power breakfast under the stars!
This week's sky at a glance -- from Sky & Telescope
Jack Star Gazer -- Jack Horkheimer's naked eye astronomy web site
Venus - from the SEDS Nine Planets web site
Jupiter - from the SEDS Nine Planets web site
Saturn - from the SEDS Nine Planets web site
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Dr. John M. Horack , Director of Science Communications
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: Frank M. Rose