Before I talk about what’s up in Durango skies, I want to let everyone know how glad I am that daylight saving time has ended for the season. If it were left to me, Colorado would join Arizona and Hawaii in foregoing the biannual sleep disruption.
If you saw the recent Trident missile launch on the West Coast that was visible from Durango, you probably paid more attention to it than I did. I happened to be outside last Saturday evening, and several of us noted the bright light moving slowly over the ridge to the west. I know I must have spent too many years living near the medical center in Houston, as my first thought was “helicopter – you can ignore those.”
If you venture outside in the early evening at this time of year, there is a relatively empty spot in the sky overhead. The summer triangle of bright Vega, Deneb and Altair is now to the west of your meridian. The bright winter constellations surrounding Orion are just now rising in the east. But between those two recognizable groups is a large area of the sky surprisingly lacking in any bright stars.
Centered in this void is the not-too-bright, but easily recognizable constellation Pegasus. I like to use it as my fall anchor for finding other, even dimmer constellations. Pegasus is one of Ptolemy’s original constellations. The brightest star is only magnitude 2.37.
Pegasus may be a winged horse in mythology, but in the sky it is simply the “great square.” Four evenly spaced second magnitude stars make up the body. Each side of the square is about 15 angular degrees wide, and the legs extend to the east and west almost 20 degrees. Interestingly, the hind legs of the horse are not considered part of the constellation Pegasus but make up the separate constellation Andromeda. Even without its back legs, Pegasus is the seventh largest constellation in the sky.
Telescope objects to look for in Pegasus include M15, a nicely dense globular cluster, and NGC 7331, one of the more photogenic galaxies in the sky.
The morning star Venus is still bright enough to see in the daytime, and Jupiter is climbing higher and higher in the early morning sky.
It should be pretty dark for the Leonid meteor shower this year. Look for them Tuesday and Wednesday after midnight.
Finally, we get to find out if Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina will be worth the wait. This comet, discovered in 2013, is from the Oort cloud, a region far beyond Pluto. That means that it is a long-period comet that, as far as we know, has never entered the inner solar system and probably will never return once it leaves. This weekend, the comet is passing behind the sun, but it will appear in the morning sky by Thanksgiving and could even become visible to the naked eye by the end of this month.
Charles Hakes is a visiting assistant professor in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is director of the Fort Lewis Observatory. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.