October Skies

Happy Fall!

We recently returned from a wonderful trip to Turkey along with our Balsam neighbors, David and Linda Kitchens and Waynesville neighbors Bucky and Judy Dykes. The tour was organized by National Geographic and our tour leaders were a husband and wife documentary film makers. If you would like to see photos from the trip click on my SmugMug gallery at:


The title of this month’s post reminds me of the wonderful movie, October Sky, the true story of Homer Hickam. Homer grew up in the coal mining country of West Virginia and was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to pursue a career in engineering and rocketry against his father’s wishes. The movie was released in 1999 and is a great rental for a cold winter weekend. October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys, the title of the book that the movie is based on.

Venus is getting a lot of attention recently as it is making an appearance high in the southwest just after dusk. Since it orbits closer to the Sun than the Earth it never strays very far from the Sun’s location in the sky. Its very bright (second only to the Moon) and when its high in the sky as it is this month it generates lots of ‘UFO’ sightings since it is only this high and bright about once a year. I have received multiple emails and calls from friends this month who were certain they have spotted a UFO or satellite. Sorry, its just the goddess of love making herself known to Earthlings. Note that Venus and a thin crescent moon will be close on the 8th and joined by the bright star Antares on the 16th.

Jupiter rises just after midnight this month and is bright overhead around 3:00 AM along with Orion and the Pleiades.

There are two – count them two! – meteor showers this month. First is the Souther Taurids (because they appear to come from the vicinity of the constellation  Taurus)  which peak on the 10th. Next is the Orionids ( because they appear to come from the vicinity of the constellation Orion) peaking on 21st but a gibbous moon will outshine with all but the brightest meteors. As always with meteor showers, the best time to observe is between midnight and dawn on the day they peak.

Astronomers of all kinds around the world are anxiously awaiting the appearance of comet ISON in hopes it will shine brightly enough to be considered one of the ‘great comets’ of the 21st century. Great comets are easily visible to the naked eye at night with long, prominent tales and really great comets are even visible during daylight! Its too soon to tell how bright ISON will get as comets are notoriously hard to predict, but so far its looking promising. During October and November ISON will be near Mars in the early morning sky. On the 17th and 18th it will be within one degree of the red planet which should make a wonderful site in a small telescope. The best time to observe will be around 5:00 AM which is about 90 minutes before dawn. Its visible now in small telescopes and even binoculars from a dark site and should steadily brighten to naked eye visibility before Thanksgiving. You will need to find a spot with a good clear view of the eastern horizon (anyone know of a good place at Balsam?). There are lots of observing guides on the web (just Google “ISON finder chart”). These are a couple of the good ones to guide you where to look:



Thats all for this month – the skies are very busy and have been very clear so go out and enjoy the night skies of Balsam Mountain Preserve.

Jim Stratigos – resident astronomer

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