What's in the Carolina sky?
|Constellation close-up: Pegasus, the Winged Horse|
Though it may not look very much like a flying horse, the constellation Pegasus has a distinctive shape that will be easy to spot in our October evening skies. Look for four bright stars to outline a square high in the east between dusk and 10 p.m. This is the Great Square of Pegasus, and it forms the horse's body. Pegasus's neck and head join to the southwestern corner of the square, and his front legs stretch out from the northwest corner. That's all there is to Pegasus, officially, though we can imagine that the V-shape of neighboring Andromeda, meeting the northeast corner of the square, forms his back legs.
Pegasus is a familiar figure in Greek mythology. According to legend, after the hero Perseus slew the snake-haired monster Medusa, Pegasus sprung fully formed from her severed neck. He was caught and tamed by the goddess of wisdom, Athena. Pegasus later served as a noble steed for many legendary figures, including the hero Bellerophon, and the Muses. He eventually found a home with the gods on Mount Olympus, and carried thunderbolts for Zeus, the king of the gods.
The constellation Pegasus is home to one of the most famous planets outside of our own solar system, known as "extrasolar planets" or "exoplanets." The planet 51 Pegasi b (nicknamed Bellerophon), discovered in 1995, was the first exoplanet found to orbit a star like our own sun. Since its discovery, astronomers have detected hundreds of others! Keep track of the current tally by checking out the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's PlanetQuest site.
Brilliant Venus hovers low in the southwestern early evening sky, setting shortly before 9 p.m. all month. Dimmer Saturn glows to Venus’ lower right in early October but then vanishes into evening twilight. Jupiter rises after midnight at the beginning of the month, but by 11 p.m. at month’s end; early risers will see this bright planet high in the south at dawn. Mars rises around 3 a.m. in the constellation Leo. Mercury lies close to the Sun’s glare all month and will be difficult to spot.
You can view celestial wonders through a large telescope on select Friday evenings through Morehead Observatory Guest Nights, sponsored by UNC's physics and astronomy department. Space is limited in the observatory, and you must register online in advance to participate. The Morehead Observatory is located on the east end (fourth floor) of the Morehead Building — enter through the double doors facing the Coker Arboretum.
- New Moon: Friday, Oct. 4
- First Quarter: Friday, Oct. 11
- Full Moon: Friday, Oct. 18
- Last Quarter: Saturday, Oct. 26