Star Watch

STAR WATCH for September through December, 2018

The WCSU Planetarium and Observatory facility is open two or three times per month (usually Saturdays), starting in September, during the WCSU fall semester. The  facility is located on the WCSU Westside Campus, atop the hill between the Campus Center and the Pinney Hall dormitory. The entrance road faces the front of Pinney Hall. Be careful of the road’s steep entrance apron; enter and depart the apron at an angle to avoid bottoming out. Parking is available but very limited around the facility; more may be found on University Boulevard.

Public Nights may be cancelled due to severe weather and/or dangerous road conditions. For updates, call (203) 837-8672 on the day of an event. Sky viewing cannot be held in cloudy or precipitating weather, but planetarium shows are usually held.

Planetarium shows are appropriate for adults and older children, but generally not for infants or toddlers.

PUBLIC NIGHT SCHEDULE   A Public Night consists of a planetarium show, beginning around sunset and about one hour long, followed if skies are clear by a viewing session with the 20-inch telescope. All Public Nights for this Fall semester are on Saturdays. The table below lists the dates of the Public Nights, the times of local sunset and the starting & ending times of the shows. Starred values ( * ) are Eastern Standard  times.

DATE of Public Night TIME of Sunset Planetarium Show Starting & Ending Times Observing Starting & Ending Times
(if skies are clear)
Sept. 8 7:17 p.m. 7 to 8 p.m. 8 to 10 p.m.
Sept. 15 7:05 p.m. 7 to 8 p.m. 8 to 10 p.m.
Sept. 29 6:41 p.m. 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 6:29 p.m. 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 6:07 p.m. 6 to 7 p.m. 7 to 9 p.m.
Nov. 10 4:40 p.m.* 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.* 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.*
Nov. 17 4:33 p.m.* 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.* 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.*
Dec. 1 4:25 p.m.* 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.* 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.*
Dec. 15 4:25 p.m.* 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.* 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.*

 

NIGHTLY SKY CALENDAR 

*, !, !! – interesting to very interesting celestial event
E –  calendar or geometry – related event (such as an equinox)

Day Date Note Description
Sun Sept. 2 Last Quarter Moon.
Wed 5 * The planet Mercury passes very near the bright star Regulus. Look low in the ENE before sunrise; Mercury will be above the star. If you miss seeing this bright pair, look again before dawn on the 6th; Mercury will be to the left of the star.
Fri 7 ! The thin waning crescent Moon passes near the Beehive cluster (Messier 44) in the ENE predawn sky. Near the horizon, Mercury and Regulus still make a striking pair, though more separated than on previous mornings.
Fri 7 The Moon reaches perigee at 361,351 km or 224,533 miles from Earth’s center.
Sat 8 !! Look low in the E sky around half an hour before sunrise to see a razor-thin crescent Moon right next to Regulus, with Mercury right below the pair.
Sat 8 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (7 to 8 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (8 to 10 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include Mars, Saturn, star cluster M13 in Hercules, the Ring Nebula and the double star Albireo.
Sun 9 New Moon.
Wed-Sat 12-15 ! to !! Look SW after sunset on Sept. 12 to see a striking pattern formed by Venus with the star Spica to its right (both very low), the waxing crescent Moon above them, and Jupiter and the star Alpha Librae to the Moon’s left. On the following night (Thurs, Sept. 13), the Moon will be close to Jupiter. On Friday evening (Sept. 14) Venus, Jupiter and the Moon form a nearly straight line tilted upward toward the left.

On Sat, Sept. 15, find a place with a good view of the southern horizon. If skies are clear, look out during early evening to see FIVE planetary bodies forming a broad curve extending from SW to SE. If you face southwest, Venus will be lowest but very bright. To Venus’s left and higher is bright Jupiter. Next is the Moon, near First Quarter phase and directly above the bright reddish star Antares. Saturn is high in the south, and Mars (still bright) in the SE finishes this beautiful planetary arc.

Sat 15 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (7 to 8 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (8 to 10 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include the Moon near First Quarter, Saturn, Mars and the star clusters Messier 11 and 15.
Sun 16 First Quarter Moon.
Mon 17 The Moon passes near Saturn.
Wed 19 The waxing gibbous Moon reaches apogee at 404,876 km or 251,578 miles from Earth’s center.
Thur 20 The waxing gibbous Moon passes near Mars.
Fri 21 ! Venus reaches greatest brilliancy, its largest illuminated extent, at magnitude -4.8. Telescopes will show a large crescent phase; look low in the WSW after sunset.
Sat 22 E The autumnal equinox (sunlight shining directly down on Earth’s equator, with the Sun moving southward) occurs at 9:54 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
Mon 24 FULL Harvest MOON.
Sat 29 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (6:30 to 7:30 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (7:30 to 9:30 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include Saturn, Mars, Neptune, Albireo, the Ring Nebula and Epsilon Lyrae.
 
Tue Oct. 2 Last Quarter Moon.
Wed 3 * Look SE one or two hours before sunrise to see the waning crescent Moon passing south of the bright stars Castor and Pollux.
Thur 4 * Look SE before morning to see the Moon passing very near the Beehive cluster (M44), much lower than Castor and Pollux and directly below them.
Fri 5 The Moon reaches perigee at 366,392 km or 227,665 miles from Earth’s center.
Sat 6 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (6:30 to 7:30 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (7:30 to 9:30 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include Mars, Neptune, and star clusters M11, M15 and M2.
Mon 8 New Moon.
Tue – Thu 9-18 * The thin waxing crescent Moon passes near Mercury after sunset on the 9th. AS an ever-growing crescent, the Moon will then pass near Venus on the evening of the 10th, near Jupiter on the 11th, near Saturn on the 14th and near Mars on the 18th. By the time it passes near Mars, the Moon will have reached waxing gibbous phase.
Tue 16 First Quarter Moon.
Wed 17 The waxing gibbous Moon reaches apogee at 404,227 km or 251,175 miles from Earth’s center.
Sat 20 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (6 to 7 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (7 to 9 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include the waxing gibbous Moon, Mars, Albireo, the Ring Nebula and Epsilon Lyrae.
Wed 24   FULL Hunter’s MOON.
Wed 31 Last Quarter Moon. The Moon also reaches perigee at 370,204 km or 230,034 miles from Earth’s center.
Sun Nov. 4 E Time once again to set back your clocks 1 hour (at 2 a.m.) as we return to Eastern Standard Time (EST) from Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).
Mon 5 Look ENE before dawn to see the thin waning crescent Moon pass near brilliant Venus, which is now a “morning planet.”
Tue 6 Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation, 23 degrees east of the Sun and visible low in the SW after sunset.
Wed 7 New Moon.
Sat 10 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (4:30 to 5:30 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include Neptune, the cluster M2, Uranus, the galaxy M31 and the Perseus double cluster.
Wed 14 The Moon reaches apogee at 404,339 km or 251,245 miles from Earth’s center.
Thu 15 First Quarter Moon. The Moon passes near Mars.
Sat 17 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (4:30 to 5:30 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include the Moon near First Quarter, Mars, Neptune, Uranus, galaxy M31, and the Perseus double cluster.
Sat/Sun 17/18 Look E around midnight (start of the 18th) to see the Leonid meteor shower. Moonlight will interfere somewhat with the observing. From an otherwise dark location, an observer could expect to see around a dozen fast meteors per hour.
Fri 23 FULL Beaver MOON.
Mon 26 The Moon reaches perigee at 366,620 km or 227,807 miles from Earth’s center.
Thu 29 Last Quarter Moon.
Sat Dec. 1 ! Venus reaches greatest brilliancy (magnitude -4.9) in the SE predawn sky.
Sat 1 ! Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (4:30 to 5:30 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include galaxy M31, Neptune, Uranus and Cassiopeia star clusters.
Mon 3 The waning crescent Moon passes near Venus in the E predawn sky.
Wed 5 Mercury lies below the waning crescent Moon before dawn.
Fri 7 New Moon.
Wed 12 The Moon reaches apogee at 405,177 km or 251,765 miles from Earth’s center.
Thu/Fri 13/14 * Because the Moon sets early, the Geminid meteor shower should be a good one. Look toward the upper part of Orion. From a dark location, an observer should see dozens of slow meteors per hour.
Sat 15 Mercury reaches greatest western elongation, 21 degrees from the Sun in the SE predawn sky.
Sat 15 First Quarter Moon.
Sat 15 * Free PUBLIC NIGHT at the Westside Observatory. A planetarium show (4:30 to 5:30 p.m.) will be followed, if skies are clear, by an observing session with the 20-inch telescope (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.). Objects that might be observed include the First Quarter Moon, Neptune, Uranus, Gamma Andromedae and the Pleiades.
Fri 21 * Mercury and Jupiter lie close together in the SE predawn sky, with Jupiter about three times brighter. In a low-power telescope view, Jupiter will show as a 31 seconds of arc disk shape; Mercury will be only about 1/5 as large, but with a “quarter Moon” shape.
Fri 21 E The winter solstice (Sun shining farthest south on the Earth) occurs at 5:23 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Sat 22 FULL Cold MOON.
Mon 24 The Moon reaches perigee at 361,062 km or 224,353 miles from Earth’s center.
Sat 29 Last Quarter Moon.

 

PLANET INFORMATION                                                                                              

MERCURY – is too close to the Sun to be easily seen during September, but it is visible low in the SW sky after sunset during October and the first weeks of November, reaching greatest eastern elongation on Nov. 6. Over the next few weeks, Mercury vanishes into the Sun’s glare, but it re-appears in the predawn sky during December, reaching greatest western elongation on Dec. 15 and passing near Jupiter on Dec. 21.

VENUS – is low in the SW evening sky during September and the first few weeks of October. Thereafter, it vanishes into the Sun’s glare for a few weeks. During November and December, Venus gradually becomes visible in the SE predawn sky.

MARS – rapidly fades in brightness as it moves away from Earth, moving through the stars of Capricornus, then Aquarius and Pisces during the autumn. It remains visible in the southern sky during early evenings. Ending July at magnitude -2.8 (brighter than Jupiter) and with a disk almost 24 seconds of arc across, by the start of September Mars will have magnitude -2.1 and a 21″ disk (still respectable). However, by the start of November, Mars’s numbers will have dropped to magnitude -0.6 and a 12″ disk — that is, more than 7 times dimmer and less than half the apparent size it had at the end of July.

JUPITER – is visible low in the SW evening sky, getting ever lower during September through most of November as it closes with the Sun. It reappears low in the SE predawn sky during December.

SATURN – is in the SW early evening sky during September, October and November, but it gets lower as it closes with the Sun. Saturn is too close to the Sun to be readily viewed during December.

Star Watch is provided by the Earth and Planetary Sciences program at Western Connecticut State University. Thanks for connecting!