For many, Cepheus may seem like a "pass-over" constellation; after all, Cassiopeia is literally littered with open clusters, and the Milky Way abounds with things to see just beyond in Cygnus. But the King, though dim, has quite a few worthwhile objects to see.
To begin, Delta Cephei is a pulsating variable star that can be seen naked eye from many areas, and easily with binoculars from severely light polluted locations. It is also the progenitor star for that class of variable. Not far from there is the deep-hued star of Mu Cephei, a massive red giant star about 6,000 light years away that glows a warm orange - perfect for cool October nights. Nearby is the very large open cluster IC 1396, though darker skies will help to see more of that. But for city dwellers, look the other direction - NGC 7160 may be small compared to IC 1396, but even a small telescope will give up some of it's stars. And easy for anyone is Xi Cephei, a double star split by most any telescope, but close enough together to offer up some intrigue.
Check out Cepheus this month, especially while the Moon is out the way. To download a star chart of the Cepheus region, click here.
Over in the morning sky, a lovely dance of planets is developing. Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all within a short angular distance of each other, and later in the month, Mercury tries to join them. Plus! The Moon stops by in early October, and again in early November. Check out this "planetary pile up" in the first part of the video above.
And on October 2, the Moon passes through the Hyades in Taurus. After the Sun rises for much of North America, the Moon will keep on moving and occult the first magnitude star Aldebaran. Can you see a star in the daytime? Of course you can! (A telescope of 4" / 100mm aperture is recommended.) The hard part if finding them. But with the large gibbous Moon to guide you to Aldebaran, it should be easy to find on Friday. See more in the video.
Sagitta may be small, but there's a lot to see in and around this neat little constellation - and none of it is all that hard to find. First stop is the Coathangar, which, very much like Sagitta looks like an arrow, looks like a coathangar. Next is a dim, but reasonably-seen globular cluster - it is a Messier object, after all, so it's not too hard to find. How WELL you see it will depend on the aperture of your telescope, and the darkness of your skies. After that, a trek out of the constellation, but very nearby into Vulpecula to find the Dumbbell Nebula, along with two very tight and challenging double stars.
See Neptune through September and October with just binoculars - or, use that as a great way to learn the star hop for when you move to the finderscope on your telescope. This video shows both the correct-image, binoculars field of view star hop, AND the reversed imaged finderscope star hop to the 8th planet. Also covered is where to find the area of sky Neptune is located - check it out, and find this planet this month! Static graphics below tell more of the story below, and Sky and Telescope has a longer-term motion star chart here.
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I talk about dark sky friendly lighting fixtures a lot - I mention them in most every video, in fact. But what are they? Find various types of dark sky friendly lighting fixtures here, or try these lighting manufacturers - and if you still have trouble locating them, contact me.
NEW AS OF JANUARY 2013: The U.S.-based home improvement store Lowes now carries dark sky friendly lighting with the IDA seal of approval - look for them in your store. Got a neighbor with a light shining in your bedroom or window somewhere in your home? Here's how to approach neighbors about poorly shielded lighting. You can also find the silver-crown light bulbs highlighted in previous "Dark Sky Facts" from these online retailers:
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