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Early autumn brings ideal conditions for stargazing. The temperatures are comfortable, the pesky insects are gone, and the sun sets early enough to get plenty of stargazing in before the kids need to go to bed. In early evening, you can still catch the eye candy within the summertime Milky Way before it sets in the west, and in late evening, the winter constellations are climbing in the eastern sky.
In this edition of Mobile Astronomy, we'll highlight some of autumn nights' best objects for unaided eyes, binoculars, and backyard telescopes. Your favorite astronomy app can show you where to find these targets, tell you when they will rise and set, and inform you about their interesting history and science. We're not going to focus on the moon and planets — just the stars and deep-sky objects that appear annually at this time of year, divided into categories.
Moonlit - Autumn - Evenings - Stars - Eyes
Even on moonlit autumn evenings, the brightest stars remain visible to unaided eyes. The stars Vega, Deneb and Altair form a well-known star pattern called the Summer Triangle, which occupies the zenith at around 8 p.m. local time. Astronomers call these informal shapes asterisms. The Great Square of Pegasus and the Keystone in Hercules are two more you can look for.
Bright stars are fine targets for unaided eyes, regardless of the phase of the moon. Stars shine with a coloration that is produced by their surface temperatures, and this is captured in their spectral classification. In early evening during October, the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle are shining high overhead. Deneb, the highest; Vega, the westernmost; and Altair, the lowest, are all A-class stars that appear blue-white to the eye and have surface temperatures ranging from 7,500 to 10,000 kelvins (13,040 to 17,540 degrees Fahrenheit, or 7,226 to 9,726 degrees Celsius).
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