The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month. We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips, prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind. We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations. If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!
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Notes and Images From September 2014
Last month I spent some time documenting the removal of Brown's Mill dam on the East Fork of the Stones River. In between shots of the work being done I looked for wildlife around the site. The image at right is a young Eastern Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula.
I also took a couple of astro images in September, but both data sets are quite large and I don't expect to put the images up until later this month or in the November Natural Calendar. One image is the Helix Nebula, a ghostly planetary nebula in Aquarius, and the other is a beautiful edge-on galaxy in Andromeda, NGC 891.
Sky Events for October 2014:
A total eclipse of the Moon occurs in the predawn and dawn hours of October 8th. This is an interesting one, with the Moon in full eclipse very low to the western horizon. This could be a good photo opportunity. Mid-eclipse is 5:55am CST, and for Middle Tennessee the Moon at that time is only about 10 degrees above the horizon at a bearing of 269 degrees, or almost due west. For more information on the eclipse, see the Sky and Telescope article here. The planet Uranus is within a couple of lunar diameters of the eclipsed Moon, and you can look at a finder chart at the above link.
A partial solar eclipse occurs in the afternoon on October 23rd. The time of maximum eclipse is around sunset, so again, it could be a chance to get some interesting photos. Never look at the Sun without having proper solar filters. You can do permanent damage to your eyes if you neglect to do this. An inexpensive solar projection device that can be used on a variety of telescopes is described here. You can also use a pinhole to project the image, and you can sometimes see naturally-formed pinhole images of the Sun formed by small openings in tree canopies and other natural shades.
Mars is now only about 6 seconds of an arc in apparent diameter. It begins the month in Ophiuchus and ends the month near the top of the "teapot" in Sagittarius. The red planet is still near the bright star Antares at the beginning of the month. Antares translates as "rival of Mars," and this is a good chance to compare the two.
Saturn is very low in the west-southwest after sunset at the beginning of the month, in Libra. Atmospheric turbulence will tend to blur the view somewhat when it is this close to the horizon.
Jupiter rises about 2:28am CDT in Cancer. For the best views, observe it close to dawn when it is higher above the horizon.
Venus slips into the morning twilight early in the month.
Mercury becomes visible in the morning sky around October 24th. It will rise higher above the eastern horizon each morning after that. By the 31st it will be about 9 degrees above the horizon 45 minutes before sunrise.
All times noted in the Sky Events are for Franklin, Tennessee and are Central Daylight Time. These times should be pretty close anywhere in the mid-state area.
Constellations: The views below show the sky looking east at 9:30pm CDT on October 15th. The first view shows the sky with the constellations outlined and labeled. Star and planet names are in green. Constellation names are in blue. The second view shows the same scene without labels. Prominent constellations include Andromeda, Perseus, Triangulum, the Triangle, Aries, the Ram, and Cetus, the Sea Monster. Auriga, the Charioteer, with its bright star Capella, and Taurus, the Bull, are rising in the northeast. The bright star Aldebaran, a red giant representing the eye of the bull, should just be rising.
Above Aldebaran, look for the Pleiades, a beautiful open star cluster. Also called the "Seven Sisters," it has been known since antiquity. In Japan it is known as Subaru, and the Subaru automobile is named for this cluster. Before the Gregorian calendar reform in 1582, the Pleiades culminated around midnight on October 31st, and it has been traditionally associated with Halloween.
Fall is a great time to search for the very faint Veil Nebula. This supernova remnant is high in the sky this time of year, and you can sometimes spot it with 10x50 binoculars on very clear moonless nights. You won't see the fine detail or the colors you see in the image at right, but it's fun to try and catch the faint smoky wisps against a starry background.
You can find a binocular finder chart and tips for spotting the Veil Nebula here. I spotted the eastern side of the nebula on September 26th. I don't think I've ever seen the western side with binoculars The embedded bright star 52 cygni seems to dazzle my eyes too much to see the nebulosity there. Using averted vision and looking to one side of the nebula's position may help you spot it.
On Learning the Constellations: We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons. Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season. The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each October. Of course, the planets do move slowly through the constellations, but with practice you will learn to identify them from their appearance. In particular, learn the brightest stars for they will guide you to the fainter stars. Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them. It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky. Look for patterns, like the stars that make up the constellation of Perseus.
The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the Sun and the Moon appear to do. If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be lower to the eastern horizon. If you observe later, they will have climbed higher. To observe faint objects, it's always better to wait until they are high in the sky.
As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas.
For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski.
A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff. The book retails for around $14.00.
Starry Night has several software programs for learning the night sky. Visit the Starry Night web site at www.starrynight.com for details.
The Virtual Moon Atlas is a terrific way to learn the surface features of the Moon. And it's free software. You can download the Virtual Moon Atlas here.
Cartes du Ciel (described in the monthly notes above) is a great program for finding your way around the sky. It is also free, and can be downloaded here.
Apps: We really love the Sky Safari Pro application described here. For upcoming events, the Sky Week application is quite nice. Both apps are available for both I-phone and Android operating systems. The newest version, Sky Safari 4, is available here.
Listen for Southern Leopard Frogs calling during their fall breeding period. Listen also for Spring Peepers to call from patches of woods. Upland Chorus Frogs sometimes give a very dry, raspy version of their call in October. Warm-weather species like treefrogs seldom call now, but you can sometimes find them foraging in trees and shrubs. You can locate many of the frogs and toads that have been calling more frequently earlier in the year by driving the back roads slowly on rainy nights. This is a two person job. One person watches the road for amphibians and one person looks out for other vehicles. Continue to look for salamander species that breed in the fall, like the Marbled Salamander.
Recommended: The Frogs and Toads of North America, Lang Elliott, Houghton Mifflin Co.
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Nature Notes Archives: Nature Notes was a page we published in 2001 and 2002 containing our observations about everything from the northern lights display of November 2001 to frog and salamander egg masses.
Night scenes prepared with The Sky Professional from Software Bisque
All images and recordings © 2014 Leaps