What's Up

      in SW Florida Skies

Inspiring People to Connect with Nature

Check out the brand-new 5.1 surround sound and laser projection systems in our Planetarium!
October 2020:

We are thrilled to be open again as of October 1, 2020, having just installed a brand-new glorious surround-sound system! We are also showing four different shows, two on odd-numbered days and the other two on even-numbered days, so that visitors can attend planetarium shows at noon and at 2:5 pm two days in a row and never see the same show twice!


Our friends at the SW Florida Astronomical Society Meetings have moved to Zoom for Covid-avoidance, but they are hoping to be back in-person next month (watch their site for updates: www.theeyepice.org). The planetarium is  presenting mask-wearing, safely-distanced planetarium shows 7 days/week at noon and 2:15 pm. Because a safely-spaced "space" show means about 25% seating capacity, please arrive at least ten minutes before the scheduled show time to be relatively sure of getting seats. We do have hand sanitizer stations in the lobby, and we thank you for helping us keep everyone safe by distancing, wearing your masks throughout the show and using the sanitizer upon entry. Thank you!

Moon Phases Oct 2020:

1       10      16       23        31

Full     3Q     New    1Q       Full "Blue" Moon -- on Halloween!

A "Blue" moon is the second full moon in a month (no, it's not really blue). Since the phase-based period of the moon's orbit is 29.5 days, this happens more easily in months with 31 days, and of course only if the first full moon is within the first two days of the month.


Notice that the sun is now rising and setting farther and farther south of East and West. The days are definitely getting shorter, it's dark later in the morning and earlier in the evening. Early this month, Mercury will be visible above a flat western horizon just after sunset (say, seen from Fort Myers beach), a bit south of west.


Once it's fully dark, also gaze above the southwestern horizon for our last sight of the "curly J" shape of Scorpius, whose curling tail sits just below the center of the Milky Way's galactic band as you look  southwest. To the left (eastward as you look southwest) and "above" Scorpius' tail is the "teapot" of Sagittarius, with bright Jupiter and Saturn just to the east of that. Scorpius will be gone by 10 pm at the start of the month, but it will be gone by 8:30 pm by late October! 


High overhead early in October are the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle: Vega, Deneb and Altair. The beautiful part of recognizing the Summer Triangle is that it also straddles the brighter part of Milky Way, so if you were wondering where the plane of our galaxy is, it passes through the Summer Triangle and through the "curly J" shape of Scorpius, south of the Triangle.


By the way, if you recall "Maui's Fish Hook" from the movie Moana, Scorpius' curling tail in Greco-Roman astronomy is Maui's fish hook in Polynesian wayfinding astronomy. The Summer Triangle is the big triangular sail of Maui's oceangoing catamaran. The little leaping "dolphin" visible just eastward from the bottom of the triangle is a dolphin in Polynesia, but also in Greco-Roman tradition: it's a constellation called Delphinus (the dolphin).

The Orionid Meteor Shower is going all month... peak night is Oct 21 but any night this month after midnight and before it starts to get light, look high above your S horizon toward the constellation of Orion and you may see as many as 20 - 30 meteors per hour! Of course, that's only if the weather is clear as well. The Orionids shower is one of the larger showers associated with the orbit of Comet Halley. Typical periodic meteor showers are debris left trailing along their orbits by comets passing through the inner solar system and losing mass during their "turned on" phase. The tiny pieces of ice and pebbles typically burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. Halley's comet leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth's atmosphere most fully around October 20-22, while Earth intersects the center of the band that is the comet's orbit, as it does every year at this time. That's how we get periodic (annual) meteor showers. These showers and the small debris that cause them are very different from large meteors such as bolides caused by incoming meteoritic bodies; those are unpredictable in timing and the bodies that cause them are a lot likelier to wind up surviving the descent and possibly being found as meteorites on - or under - the ground. If you visit our planetarium's lobby displays you will encounter a wide variety of meteorites, a couple of which you can touch.


By late October, the Summer Triangle is only seen in the first half of the night, and the constellations of the winter sky, such as Orion, Gemini and Taurus, will be well up for your viewing pleasure by late evening, and on into predawn.

On October 2, the just-past-full Moon passes right by Mars in the course of the night... remember, the Moon moves fast in our sky -- more than 11 degrees a night against the background stars (and planets). You will see them close together above the eastern horizon at 9 pm, but keep watching: by 7 tomorrow morning, they will be well separated again, above your western horizon, as the Moon speeds ever eastward!

In the predawn sky, say 6:45 am, Venus shines brilliantly in the east and is gradually heading closer to the Sun from our Earthly point of view; at the same predawn time, look high in the west-southwest to see butterscotch-rusty Mars. On October 2 and 3, Venus will be passing the bright star Regulus, which will make for an interesting "double star" appearance in our early morning sky. Venus is very bright, so it will outshine Sirius (brightest star in our night sky, well south of Venus in the predawn sky) and Canopus, which is another very southerly star we enjoy seeing below Sirius in the predawn south-southeast.

This month's planetarium shows include the World Premiere of "Big Astronomy: People*Places*Discoveries" (about the huge observatories in Chile and the people who study the stars and galaxies using those facilities, and of course what they find out!), our own premiere of Drifting North: Into the Polar Night (about the MOSAiC mission studying polar ice and climate phenomena by freezing a ship-observatory into an ice floe: this show covers through December 2019 so is very up-to-date) and then The Planets narrated by Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager) and Mayan Archaeoastronomy (a very artistic look at the sky observations and beliefs of the ancient Maya). Click on the individual days and then on the items in our Calendar to see a full description of the shows or events for that day.

To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page.

Hoping to see you soon at the Center,

Heather Preston, Planetarium Director

© 2020 by CNCP