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Autumn stargazing is at its best!

Starwatch

This is such a wonderful time of year for stargazing! The nights are longer and have great constellations, planets, and other celestial treasures in the Butler night sky.

Treat yourself and lie back on a reclining lawn chair to take it all in! The dark skies of the countryside are best, but even city skies can put on a great show.

There is so much to see this October. Headlining are the planets Jupiter and Saturn which are still relatively close to our planet. Mars is also closing in! Jupiter and Saturn pop out in the early evening southeastern sky fairly close to each other. You can’t miss them even in light polluted heavens.

Jupiter is the brightest star-like object in the entire evening sky. Saturn is the next brightest luminary you can see to the upper right of Jupiter in the southern evening heavens, about 50 degrees away or about five widths of your fist held at arm’s length.

In late September, Jupiter was the closest it’s been to Earth since 1951 and is just about as close in our October skies. At the beginning of the month, Jupiter is 368 million miles away. Believe it or not that’s close for Jupiter.

Since it’s so close, you’ll easily see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons with even a small telescope. They resemble tiny stars on either side of the giant planet. I’ll have much on Jupiter next week in Starwatch.

Saturn is an outstanding telescope target. It’s not quite as close to Earth as it was in August, but with even a small scope, you should still easily resolve Saturn’s vast ring system and maybe even some of its moons, especially Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury.

Saturn will join a nearly full Hunter Moon this coming Wednesday evening. A few nights later on Oct. 8, the moon will be one day shy of being full and will be just to the lower left of Jupiter. That should be fabulous!

If you stay late enough, you’ll witness the great 2022 Mars invasion! Early in October, look for distinctly orange-red Mars in the low northeast sky, and it’ll be the brightest star-like object in that part of the sky.

By late in the month, Mars will be even brighter, rising a little after 9 p.m. In December, Mars and Earth will reach their closest approach to each other in over two years. Stay tuned!

Even though it’s autumn, many summer constellations are hanging on in the western evening sky. You can still easily see the Summer Triangle high above the western horizon, made up of the three brightest stars from three separate constellations: Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp; Altair, the brightest star in Aquila the Eagle; and Deneb in Cygnus the Swan.

The Big Dipper is upright and riding low in the northwestern sky. Even though it’s the most famous star pattern in the sky, it’s not an official constellation but makes up the bright rear end and tail of the large constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear.

In the east, look for a giant diamond of stars on the rise that marks the grand constellation Pegasus, the winged horse. Just to the upper left of Pegasus is the Andromeda Galaxy, the next-door neighbor to our Milky Way, nearly 2.5 million light-years away, with just one light-year spanning nearly six trillion miles!

If you stay up late enough, you’ll spot the Pleiades star cluster resembling a tiny version of the Big Dipper in the eastern sky. It’s also called the “Seven Little Sisters,” the daughters of the god Atlas.

Most people can see at least six stars, but it’s possible to see seven or even more. Through binoculars or a small telescope, you can see many more. Astronomically it’s a cluster of young stars that all formed together over 100 million years ago, and they’re relatively close by at a little over 400 light-years away.

Another wonderful gift October stargazing offers in the darker countryside heavens is the Milky Way band, a ribbon of ghostly light that reaches across the entire sky from the southwest to the northeast horizon, cutting the sky nearly in half. It’s absolutely breathtaking! The milky band is the combined light of billions and billions of stars that make up the plane, or the thickest part, of our own Milky Way Galaxy.

Don’t miss the great October skies!

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and retired broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is the author of "Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations," published by Adventure Publications and available at bookstores and adventurepublications.net. Contact him at mikewlynch@comcast.net.

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