Sky at a Glance 2020 October 10 – 17

Photo of the Pleiades star cluster taken by Paul Owen of the Saint John Astronomy Club.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 October 10 – 17 ~by Curt Nason

The Pleiades star cluster, which is located in the shoulder of Taurus the Bull, is rising by 8 pm now as a harbinger of winter. In a month it will be rising at sunset. Due to its shape, this eye-catching cluster has been mistaken for the Little Dipper. Most of us can count six stars in the Pleiades under good conditions but keen-eyed wonders have picked out twice that number from a dark sky. A low power view of it in binoculars will show a couple of dozen stars and it is one of the prettiest sights you will see in the night sky. I always look for the hockey stick in the binocular view.

According to Wikipedia, the name Pleiades likely comes from the ancient Greek word “plein,” which means “to sail.” Sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea typically began when the cluster was first spotted before sunrise. In mythology it became the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, hence its common name of the Seven Sisters. Somewhere along the way one of them got lost. Astronomers also know it as M45 from the Messier catalogue. The cluster played a significant role in marking time for several ancient cultures, including the Maori, Mayan, Aztec and some First Nations.

Perhaps you have seen the Pleiades while stuck in traffic and just haven’t realized it. The six-star logo of Subaru automobiles depicts the Pleiades, as Subaru is the Japanese name for the cluster. The name, which means “united,” was chosen because the company was formed from a merger of several.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:30 am and sunset will occur at 6:41 pm, giving 11 hours, 11 minutes of daylight (7:34 am and 6:46 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:39 am and set at 6:28 pm, giving 10 hours, 49 minutes of daylight (7:43 am and 6:34 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Venus Wednesday morning; and it is new and at perigee on Friday, October 16, giving extreme tides next weekend. Mars is at opposition on Tuesday, a week past its closest approach to Earth, but it will be at least as bright as Jupiter for the rest of the month. Jupiter and Saturn are at their highest for observing in twilight. Telescope users might catch Jupiter’s stormy Red Spot between 8:30 and 9 pm on Wednesday and between 10 and 10:30 pm on Friday. Venus dominates the morning sky and, starting late in the week, rural stargazers might see it within the zodiacal light 90 minutes before sunrise.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

[photo of the Pleiades by Paul Owen of the Saint John Astronomy Club]

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