This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 14th and Thursday, October 15th written by Louis Suarato
Wednesday evening, just after sunset, the 3% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon will be low on the west-southwestern horizon. The Moon will set a few minutes after 7 pm. To the south, about 10 degrees over the horizon, Saturn offers its final evening views of the year. Look for Saturn to reappear in dawn’s twilight in mid-December. Saturn will be closer to the thicker 8% illuminated crescent Moon Thursday night. Look for Saturn 8 degrees to the left of the crescent Moon after Thursday’s sunset.
Thursday morning features four planets 28 degrees apart. Venus will be highest, and brightest, rising first. Dimmer Mars will be approximate 8 degrees below Venus, and just 1 degree above Jupiter. October 15th is the birth date of astronomer Asaph Hall, who in 1877, discovered and named the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, and calculated their orbits. Mercury is the last to rise, and can be found about 20 degrees below and left of Jupiter. Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation at 18 degrees at 11 p.m. Thursday night.
Take advantage of the moonless night to hunt for some galaxies near the handle of the Big Dipper. During the early evening, the Big Dipper’s handle is parallel to the northwestern horizon. About 7 degrees above the last two stars of the Big Dipper’s handle is the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as M101 or NGC 5457. The Pinwheel Galaxy, with a magnitude of 7.70, was first discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 27, 1781. It is roughly the size of the Milky Way, with a diameter of 170,000 light-years. About 4 degrees below the last star of the Big Dipper’s handle, Alkaid, is the Whirlpool Galaxy, or M51. The Whirlpool Galaxy was discovered on October 13, 1773 by Charles Messier. Its companion galaxy, NGC 5195 was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781. At magnitude 8.40, the Whirpool Galaxy is about 23 million light-years from our Milky Way galaxy. M51 is best seen through an 8 to 10 inch telescope.
The Dudley Observatory will be hosting an Octagonal Barn Lecture and Star Party beginning at 7 pm on Friday, October 16th. The lecture, “Do Black Holes Destroy Information?” will be given by Oleg Lunin, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of Physics, University at Albany. The Octagonal Barn is located at 588 Middle Road, Delanson, NY. The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will also be hosting a Star Party this Friday at Grafton Lake State Park. If this event is cancelled, it will be rescheduled for Saturday night.