Mercury cannot be seen this month. It is lost in the solar glare as its orbit brings it out from behind the sun.
Brilliant Venus rises in the eastern predawn sky, appearing as the beautiful "Morning Star" throughout October. On Oct. 3, Venus and the much dimmer bluish-white triple star Regulus are very close together before dawn.
Mars is still located low in the southwestern evening sky and will remain there through the end of the year.
Bright Jupiter rises in the east-northeast mid-evening sky. In the predawn hours, look for it beaming down from high in the southern sky.
Saturn is behind the sun in relation to Earth, and cannot be seen in October.
The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks on the night of Oct. 20-21. The best time to look for these meteors is between midnight and dawn. The moon will not be a problem during that time. This shower normally produces about 20 meteors per hour, many of which are a yellow or greenish color. At over 40 miles per second, these are fast meteors that at times produce fireballs.
TEARS OF THE SUN
"Gold still represents the ultimate form of payment in the world."
- Alan Greenspan, testimony before U.S. House Banking Committee
Gold has fascinated civilizations for many thousands of years. It has been found in caves that were inhabited by humans as early as 40,000 B.C.E. The ancient Egyptians were refining it by 5000 B.C.E. The Incas in Pre-Columbian Peru looked upon gold as the tears of the sun. Their artisans were highly advanced in the use of gold long before the Spanish arrived, creating intricate jewelry and filigree, using the inlay and lost-wax methods. The conquistadors brought religion and destruction to the vast Inca Empire. They slaughtered the natives and stole their gold, which, to this day, remains one of the most precious resources on Earth. What makes gold so incredibly valuable?
Gold is a very versatile precious metal. It's the most malleable element known, capable of being beaten into extremely thin sheets. In fact, gold leaf is as thin as 0.000127mm, which is 400 times thinner than a human hair. Gold is also remarkably ductile and can be drawn out as a thin wire under tension without breaking. Although it's hard to believe, 1 ounce of gold can be drawn into 50 miles of very thin wire. Throughout the ages, people all over the world have used it to adorn their bodies, in art and jewelry, in medicine and dentistry, and in industry.
Gold is a relatively rare element that is heavier and more dense than even lead. However, in its pure state, gold is very soft and easily dented or scratched, a problem that is commonly overcome by combining it with other metals to form an alloy. The amount of gold present in an alloy is measured in units called karats. Since one karat is equal to one part in 24, an 18 karat piece of gold jewelry contains 18 parts of gold and six parts of the alloy metal.
Over the last few centuries, gold has served mainly as a monetary metal and the largest part of the world's bullion produced every year ended up in the vaults of central banks and government treasuries. More recently, because of its unique combinations of chemical and physical properties, gold is essential in certain components of spacecraft, jet engines, computers, communication equipment, etc.
Now, where did the Earth's gold come from? Scientists believe that only three elements, hydrogen, helium and lithium were present immediately following the big bang that created the universe. Eventually, with the help of gravity, stars were formed and the tremendous heat and pressure in their cores gradually fused heavier and heavier elements up to the mass of iron. But in order to form elements that are heavier than iron, it takes even more energy than is available in ordinary stars. This higher energy can be found in the supernovae explosions that end the lives of very massive stars and in the extremely violent collisions of neutron stars. Scientists now believe that these two events, which create the most powerful furnaces in the visible universe, are the sources of the heaviest chemical elements in the universe, including gold.
Once the molecules of these very heavy elements are synthesized in incredibly violent events, they are distributed throughout the interstellar medium by powerful solar winds from giant stars, planetary nebulae, novae and other supernova explosions. Eventually this material ends up in enormous molecular clouds of gas and dust that form within galaxies. Over millions of years, these clouds collapse under their own gravity, forming a disk with an embryonic protostar at the center. The growing protostar continues to add matter, again under the influence of gravity, until the pressure and temperature in the core is high enough to begin nuclear fusion. Near the end of this star-formation process, the remaining material in the outer disk forms a variety of planets. Voila: a new solar system is born and the cycle of star death and star birth continues.
Following a recent survey of millions of stars in our galaxy, an international research team estimated there are at least 160 billion planets in just our Milky Way. Since there are more than 500 billion galaxies in the universe, trillions upon trillions of planets must exist and a high percentage of these probably contain some gold ore. "There's gold in them thar hills" even though the hills may be on another world.
Editor's note: This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association, the Southern Tier Astronomy Recreation Society and The Post -Journal. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at www.martzobservatory.org or S.T.A.R.S. at www.UpStateAstro.org/stars/stars.html