It's time to get out the Milky Way and Mars candy bars, the Moon Pies and the Starburst chews. It's Halloween! The moon - almost new - will hide during the trick or treat hours this year. It's a challenging object to see, rising before dawn, and setting before most young ghosts and goblins are out and about after sunset. Try to spot it in the afternoon when younger trick or treaters are out!
The very slender crescent moon sets in the west two hours before sunset. Better yet, invite your neighbors over during the next two weekends to see spooky and historic features on the moon after sunset. Your astronomy club will likely have a moon viewing event the week after Halloween. I know mine does, on every first quarter moon Saturday night. Venus will be the best object to show (from the city) after sunset this year. You don't even need a telescope to show the bright planet.
Next year Halloween falls on Friday night - a first quarter moon night!
Here are my favorite spooky named objects. Some are tricks and all are treats! The galaxies and nebulae will require a dark sky, but the lunar features and double stars are city observing targets. Have fun observing and let me know your favorites and I'll add them to the list next year!
Mirach's Ghost NGC 404 in Andromeda, magnitude 11, size 4.3' x 3.9' This galaxy is hard to see. Move Mirach (Beta Andromedae) out of the way for a ghostly view.
The Phantom Streak NGC 6741 in Aquila, magnitude 10.8, size 6". A fast evolving planetary nebula.
The Ghost of the Moon Nebula NGC 6781 in Aquila, magnitude 11.8, size 1.8'. A nice round ghostly planetary nebula.
The Spider Galaxy NGC 5829 (Arp 42) in Bootes, magnitude 13.8, 1.7' x 1.5'. Pretty face-on spiral galaxy in BOOtes. Scary!
The Skull Nebula NGC 246 in Cetus, magnitude 8, size 3.8'. William Herschel discovered this large planetary nebula. It's easy to find, and a real treat!
The Witch Head Nebula. IC 2118 in Eridanis, magnitude 13, size 160' by 80'. (About the same size as the Andromeda Galaxy which is 189' by 61'). This very large and very faint reflection nebula is associated with the star Rigel but is almost 3 degrees west of the star. The blue color of the nebula is caused not only by blue color of Rigel, but also because the dust grains reflect blue light more efficiently than red. Earth's daytime sky appears blue for the same reason.
The Ghost Ring Nebula IC 5148 in Grus, magnitude 13, size 2'. A pretty little planetary nebula in the neck of Grus the crane. If you can see Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus, look a little more south to find Grus.
The Little Ghost Nebula NGC 6369 in Ophiuchus, magnitude 12.9, size 30". A pretty planetary nebula, also discovered by William Herschel. Look for the mag 15.9 central star in this planetary nebula.
The Red Spider Nebula NGC 6537 in Sagittarius, magnitude 12.5, size 9". A bipolar planetary nebula with a hot white dwarf star.
Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Terror) - the moons of Mars. It's possible to see these small moons, but easier to see when Mars is closer than it is now. Try closer to opposition. There's nothing to fear!
Hell, Rukl's Atlas of the Moon, chart 64. 33 km crater near Deslandres, which is an amazing and very large and complex crater. The small crater Hell (actually named for 18th century Hungarian astronomer Maximilian Hell - who observed the 1769 Transit of Venus) is also near (north of) Tycho, one of the most prominent craters on the moon. Its bright rays will be easily visible 12 days after Halloween 2013 near the full moon phase. You'll need a telescope to see Hell.
Any lunar map will help you find your way to all of these lunar features, and they are all visible this year on Halloween. Here is my favorite lunar website Hitchhikers Guide to the Moon. You can get the general location of each Rukl lunar chart listed below, and then use your favorite moon map to find these spooky treats and scary sights.
Lacus Doloris (Lake of Suffering), Rukl chart 23, 110 km mare. This Mare is just over the Montes Haemus from Mare Serinitatis. If you've spotted the bright white (tiny) crater Linne, you're close to the Lake of Suffering. This small lake is visible visible South of bright Linne ten days after Halloween 2013.
Lacus Mortis (Lake of Death), Rukl chart 14, 150 km diameter flooded crater. You'll find it North of the great crater Posidonius, and north of easy-to-spot mare Crisium ((which is visible the week after Halloween 2013). Through your telescope, find some great rilles (long, narrow depressions in the lunar surface that resemble channels) on the western side of Lacus Mortis. The Lake of Death is near the terminator.
Lacus Timoris (Lake of Fear) and Palus Epidemiarum (Marsh of Epidemics), Rulk chart 63. In the southwestern section of the moon. This section of the moon deserves a careful look through the telescopes. You'll also find lunar domes and rilles in this region of the moon. Rima Hesiodus bisects the Eastern part of the Marsh of Epidemics. Lacus Timoris is an elongated region surrounded by mountains. Best seen near full moon, 14 days after Halloween 2013.
Palus Putrendis (Marsh of Rot), Rukl chart 22, 180 km small plain on the prime meridian, near Hadley Rille and the Apollo 15 site. How can you not like the name Palus Putrendis? It's easy to find between the crater Archimedes and Montes Appeninus. This is Hadley Rille/Apollo 15 landing site territory. Well worth a look! Look after first quarter moon 8 days after Halloween 2013.
Boo Epsilon (36) (Bootes), double star, mag 2.5 and 4.9, yellow/orange and blue/green double
Boo Mu (51) Bootes, triple star, mag 4.3 and 7 and 7.6 triple, yellow primary, yellow/orange pair
Boo Xi (37) Bootes, quadruple star, mag 4.7 and 7.0, with a 9.6 and 12.6 companion, yellow and reddish/orange
Happy Halloween from PK 164+31.1
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