Our universe as we see it now has about 100 billion trillion stars, more stars than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of Earth. So it seems strange to think there was a time in the early universe, until a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, when there were no stars. Not a single one.
There’s a Jupiter-sized sunspot on the face of the Sun right now, the biggest by far in a long, long time. The image above gives you a view of the sunspot today (October 24, 2014). It will remain visible for a few more days before the Sun’s rotation takes it out of view.
If you have a telescope equipped with a solar filter, or a pair of solar “eclipse glasses” or a piece of #14 welding glass, you can easily see the sunspot without magnifying optics.
Just two weeks after a total lunar eclipse, some lucky observers in North America will get to see a partial solar eclipse on October 23, 2014. The eclipse is visible from most of North America and Mexico. No observers will see the Sun totally eclipsed, but from western North America, about 40% to 80% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon. This is a great “dry run” for the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.
The northern constellation Cassiopeia is clogged with open star clusters that invite inspection with a small telescope. One of the most striking of these clusters is the wonderful NGC 457, also known as the “E.T. Cluster”, because of its resemblance to the famous character from the Steven Spielberg movie, eyes glowing, arms outstretched, ready to give you a big hug.
October 2014 welcomes the Hunter Moon, the first full Moon of northern autumn. By chance, this month’s full Moon passes into eclipse by the Earth for observers in most of North America, eastern Australia, and all of Hawaii and New Zealand. Later in the month, the Orionid meteor shower graces near-perfect sky as the Earth passes through the debris-strewn path of Comet Halley. And an astonishing encounter: a tiny comet grazes the planet Mars, an event which will make news all over the world. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…