Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report for Oct. 25 – 31

Twilight with stars at Zion National Park, Utah, courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report
John Mosley

Oct. 25 – 31

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to [email protected]

The three bright planets visible Monday are Jupiter and Saturn in Capricornus and Venus in Ophiuchus. Ophiuchus? Yes, it’s the “13th constellation of the zodiac” and Venus is within its boundaries from Oct. 21 until Nov. 1 before moving on to Sagittarius. You can see Ophiuchus in the southwest during the early evening.

When the sky was divided into constellations millennia ago, early astronomers paid particular attention to the star groups that the moon and planets pass through. There are about 12 lunar months in a year (12 full moons) so they divided the sky into 12 sections, or signs. Many were animals, like the Bull and the Lion, so the 12 were known as the zodiac for “circle of animals.”

But the constellation boundaries have evolved; for example what was once the Claws of the Scorpion is now Libra the Scales. According to the way modern astronomers divide the sky, after passing through Scorpius, Venus transits southernmost Ophiuchus on its way to Sagittarius.

Ophiuchus is the Serpent Bearer, and his serpent is the rod of the healer Asclepius (Google it) and the two-part constellation Serpens (green on the attached star chart). All the planets plus the sun and moon invariably pass through Ophiuchus from time to time so this is hardly unusual. (Google “Ophiuchus 13th constellation”). The sun passes through Ophiuchus too, from Nov. 29 through Dec. 17.

Telescopically Venus looks like a tiny first-quarter moon, but use high power — at least 50X — because Venus appears to be only 1/80th the diameter of the moon. Venus is approaching the earth so it will grow larger telescopically and become a slimmer crescent in weeks ahead.

Jupiter and Saturn are to the left of Venus and the three form a nice line in the sky. Jupiter is not quite as bright as Venus and fainter Saturn is between them and a quarter of the way from Jupiter to Venus.

Uranus and Neptune are out these evenings too, in Aquarius and Aries respectively, and you can see them in any telescope and even binoculars if you know precisely where to look. The best way to find them is to use an inexpensive planetarium app on your smartphone or tablet; my favorite is SkySafari but there are several that will do the job. That same app will verify that the sun passes through Ophiuchus in early December.

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