This month, as we look up toward the skies, we take a peek at what the moon is up to and embark on a winding road trip to some historic observatories across the country.
Oct. 9-15: The moon’s getting around
What’s that bright star next to the moon? It’s probably a planet. And this month, the moon will pass by our sister planet, rendezvous with the lord of the rings and then quickly visit the largest planet in our solar system.
The classic astronomy view will happen on Oct. 9 when the crescent moon will hang just above the dazzling planet Venus in the darkening sky. Face west and as the sun sets, you’ll notice first the moon then bright Venus will pop out. Check out the pair as darkness falls and they slowly set together in the west.
Each night, the moon will appear farther to the left (or east) than it did the night before. And by the night of Oct. 13, it will be just to the right of a steady yellow “star.” This is actually the ringed planet Saturn. To Saturn’s left will be an even brighter “star.” That’s Jupiter, and the moon will appear closer to Jupiter on Oct. 14 and then slide below and to the left of Jupiter by Oct. 15.
And best of all, this can be seen with the naked eye.
Road trip: Historic observatories
Historic observatories around the country are beginning to open up again. In September, I did a road trip to eight astronomical observatories in six states and met the people who share views of the stars and planets with an eager public.
The Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, is home to the largest refracting telescope in the world. 40 inches wide and 60 feet long, the massive telescope is housed in an architectural wonder of a building. The massive dome rises above the countryside and artistic flourishes decorate the exterior at every turn. The Yerkes Future Foundation recently acquired the building and telescopes and plans to reopen to the public in 2022.
The Drake Municipal Observatory in Des Moines, Iowa, hosts a free public lecture and stargaze every Friday night this fall. Up a spiral staircase and into the dome, you will find a telescope built in 1894. The dome is currently under renovation, but the lectures and viewing through portable telescopes continue through Nov. 5.
The Northmoor Observatory in Peoria, Illinois, is tucked away inside Donovan Park. After a short walk from the parking lot and through a grassy field, you are greeted by friendly amateur astronomers and invited inside to view through their red-tubed refractor telescope built in 1913. Public stargazes are held every Saturday night, May-October, and are led by the Peoria Astronomical Society.
When you turn the corner onto Observatory Place in Cincinnati, Ohio, you see a silver dome atop a building from another era. The main Cincinnati Observatory building houses a 117-year-old, 22-foot-long telescope. And that’s the newer telescope. The older telescope is the oldest public telescope in the world. Nicknamed the Mitchel Telescope after the Observatory’s founder, this 16-foot-long, mahogany and brass instrument is a true work of art and science. The Cincinnati Observatory is open to the public by appointment Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday during the daytime and Friday nights.
Observatories on Dean’s tour:
Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin
Washburn Observatory, Madison, Wisconsin
Goodsell Observatory, Northfield, Minnesota
Chamberlin Observatory, Denver, Colorado
Boswell Observatory, Crete, Nebraska
Drake Municipal Observatory, Des Moines, Iowa
Ashton Observatory, Mingo, Iowa
Northmoor Observatory, Peoria, Illinois
Cincinnati Observatory, Cincinnati, Ohio
Take an Online Astronomy Class
What: Take a fast, fun, online class with astronomer Dean Regas and zoom around the universe. Perfect for the beginning stargazer.
When: Each class begins at 7 p.m.
Oct. 12: The Moon.
Oct. 19: Touring American Observatories.
Oct. 26: Monsters in the Sky, Constellation Myths for Kids (and adults).
Cost: $10 per household.
REad More:Moon conjunctions in October, Dean Regas takes observatory road trip