Milky Way galaxy, cygnus constellation, and the northern cross.

Minnesota Skies: October

Your local guide to observing celestial objects and events

Published10/02/2018 , by Parke Kunkle

Cygnus the Swan constellation and the stars that make up the Northern Cross asterism

On the ground, the fall season conjures thoughts of harvest, changing leaves, crisp nights, and possibly candy if you’re trick-or-treating on the 31st. Up above, October skies feature other sweet treats for us to enjoy.

Mars is still bright and hard to miss in the southern sky around 8:30 pm. It continues to fade from its close approach in late July but it is still fun to note its pumpkin hue. Saturn is still visible in the early evening hours, too, so grab a telescope or visit the Bell during our Star Party on October 12 to see its glorious rings.

Look overhead around 8:30 pm for the bright star Deneb (even brighter Vega gleams about 25 degrees west of Deneb). Deneb shines at the tail of Cygnus the Swan, flying southwest with wings spread to the side and ending with Albireo, a fainter star about half way between Vega and bright Altair. This “clipped constellation” is also known as the Northern Cross.

The Northern Cross is not a constellation, but an asterism (stars of similar brightness recognized in a distinctive shape) like the Big Dipper. That said, many people have an easier time finding this pattern than the constellation Cygnus. The Northern Cross lies in the direction of the Milky Way’s disk, with the galactic plane (equator) running through it. The asterism also happens to occupy a region of the sky full of interesting deep sky objects, like the North America and Veil nebulae.

Sky-lights

October Highlight Comments
4 Beehive Cluster (open cluster of stars) just above thin crescent Moon 5-6 am, East
11 Bright Jupiter below Moon 7 pm, Low SW
14 Saturn less than 2 degrees below left of Moon 8 pm, SSW
17 Mars 5 degrees left of Moon 8 pm, South
18 Mars 6 degrees below right of Moon 8 pm, South

Resources

When viewing planets, stars or constellations in the night sky, it is helpful to use a sky map. Minnesota Starwatch is another great resource for tracking the night sky.

Meet up with other stargazing enthusiasts via Twin Cities Sidewalk Astronomers, MN Astronomical Society & MN Institute for Astrophysics.