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Starwatch: Year's best constellations, including Pegasus, on the way

SW DIAGRAM FOR SEPTEMBER 27, 2013.JPG
SW DIAGRAM FOR SEPTEMBER 27, 2013.JPG

It's really autumn now, and it's a wonderful time to get out and enjoy the absolute beauty of the Rochester night sky.

We're entering the prime time of stargazing season. The nights are longer, the mosquitoes are history, and with less moisture in the air the skies are more transparent. Even if you're not a big-time stargazing fan, you owe yourself the treat of lying back on a reclining lawn chair and taking in the celestial show.

The dark skies of the countryside are best. You'll see the bright Milky Way Band, the thickest part of our home galaxy, stretching from the northeast to southwest horizon. Even if you stargaze outside your house in the more lit-up neighborhoods in the city or suburbs, it's still a pretty good show.

Even though it's autumn, summer is hanging on in the western sky. You can still easily see the famous "Summer Triangle" high above the western horizon, made up of three bright stars from three separate constellations.

There's Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp; Altair in Aquila the Eagle; and Deneb, the brightest star, in Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus is also known by a lot of stargazers as the "Northern Cross." Deneb is more than 1,500 light years away.

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In the north, the Big Dipper is upright and riding low in the northwestern sky. In fact, it's getting so low that it's hard to see if you have a high treeline.

The Big Dipper is the most famous star pattern there is, but technically it's not a constellation. The Big Dipper is actually the rear end and tail of the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear. It's also the brightest part of the Big Bear.

Look to the right of the pot section of the Big Dipper for a skinny triangle of three dimmer stars that make up the head of the Big Bear. Unless you're really plagued with light-polluted skies, you should be able to spot those three stars with the naked eye.

I love the name of the star on the far right hand side of the triangular head. It's called Muscida. Sounds like something you'd take to relieve nasal congestion. Muscida is a Latin name that in English translates to muzzle or snout.

In the early evening eastern October skies, the stars and constellations of autumn and early winter begin their nights higher and higher in the sky. The best one, in my opinion, is Pegasus the Winged Horse, now flying higher in the east with the Andromeda Galaxy just above its wing. In the low northeast, look for the bright star Capella leading in the constellation Auriga, one of the first wonderful constellations of winter.

If you're up super late, you can see a very bright star rising in the east by 1 a.m. That's actually the planet Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system. If you hold a finger out at arm's length you can easily cover up the planet that's so big, you could fill it up with more than 1,200 Earths if it were hollow.

Enjoy your October skies. They are truly magical!

Instructions for sky map

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Cut out the map. Hold it over your head and line up the compass points on the map with the points on the horizon. Use a small flashlight with a piece of red cloth or paper over the lens to protect your night vision.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul and is author of the book, "Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations" published by Adventure Publications.

The Rochester Astronomy Club welcomes new members and puts on public star parties. Their website is www.rochesterskies.org.

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