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Evan Hazard/Northland Stargazing: Fall constellations and Comet ISON, maybe

BEMIDJI — Astronomical fall began Sunday. Many fall constellations are up in the east. (Most will be on that good plastic planisphere that you bought when I first suggested it.)

The bright star just above the NNE horizon is Capella, in Auriga; the rest of Auriga will be visible later in the evening. Camelopardalis, with no bright stars, is above Auriga. Continuing southward above the eastern horizon, we find Perseus, whose second brightest star is Algol, the "demon star." Wikipedia has a good discussion of it at


Next are two minor constellations, Triangulum and Aries. (Do not confuse Aries with Ares, the Greek name for Mars.) Triangulum contains the galaxy M33, some 10 million light years away, a binocular object. Above Triangulum is Andromeda, host to M31, our neighbor spiral galaxy, only 2.5 million light-years away. Its central bulge is barely visible to the naked eye in a dark sky. Both galaxies are members of our "local group."

Next to Andromeda is Pegasus, well above the eastern horizon and easily recognized by its "great square." Below Pegasus is Pisces, a long string of dim stars with a fish at each end.

Just above the ESE horizon is Cetus, the whale, whose brightest star, at its south end, is not Alpha Ceti but Beta Ceti. Beats me. Three more watery constellations follow: Aquarius, the water bearer; Pisces, Austrinus the southern fish and Capricornus, the sea goat, due south. The only really bright star in the lot is Fomalhaut, above the SSE horizon in Pisces Austrinus.

We’ve left out our most conspicuous asterism just above the ENE horizon, the Pleiades. It’s in Taurus, most of which won’t rise until after 10 p.m. Wikipedia also has a good site on the Pleiades. More on Taurus next month.

Venus, the only easily visible evening planet, reaches greatest elongation Nov. 1. It will never be high above the western horizon this time around. Saturn and Mercury are much closer to the sunset. Jupiter comes up about midnight now, but will rise two hours earlier on Halloween. Mars is a morning object. From Oct. 16-19, comet ISON will be about 1 degree above Mars. Use binocs.

October’s evening to 1 a.m. minima of Algol are: Oct. 8, 11:04 p.m.; Oct. 11, 7:53 p.m.; Oct. 28-29, 12:46 a.m. There is a good discussion of Algol at


Daylight Savings Time ends at 2 a.m. Nov. 3, yielding an extra hour of stargazing (Yay!) but also of nighttime driving (Boo!).

Evan Hazard also writes "Threescore and Ten" for The Pioneer’s "Prime Time."