October 2012

October brings us the annual Orionid meteor shower, some longer nights, the fading away of Mars, and longer viewing times for Jupiter.


5th - Close Encounter - Jupiter & Moon - Starting at 11pm on the night of the 5th, look for the gibbous Moon in the East.  Just 5˚ above it will be bright Jupiter.  These two will continue to rise into the morning.  See how close to sunrise you are still able to see Jupiter!  The night before, the Moon will be higher than Jupiter, and a little farther away.

Last Quarter Moon - 8th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

12th - Close Encounter - Venus & Moon - Get up after 4:30am but before sunrise, look east, and you'll see bright Venus about 6˚ to the left of the thin crescent Moon.

New Moon - 15th (darkest skies)

16th-18th - Close Encounter - Moon, Mercury, Mars - On the 16th, look SW after sunset (6:22ish or later) and find the very thin waxing crescent Moon very low on the horizon.  You'll need binoculars.  Only 2˚ to the left will be Mercury.  The next day is more "exciting" since the Moon will be a little thicker, and in between Mercury and Mars.  On the 18th, the Moon will be 5˚ up and to the left of Mars.

First Quarter Moon - 21st (Visible until midnight)

20th - 22nd - Orionid Meteor Shower - Technically it's active all month, but during the peak it'll produce about 20 fast and faint meteors under dark skies.  The Moon will be out until midnight, but the best time to look for these are in the early morning, so the conditions are great.  If you've got the patience (and a jacket), go out on the mornings of the 20th - 22nd and look above Orion to his "club" asterism.

Some advice for watching:

Find a dark location, Lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

Look toward Orion. That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from.  Keep a wide eye and try to take in the whole sky, instead of staring at one spot or through binoculars or a telescope.

Dress in multiple layers and bring hot chocolate Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear (weather.com has a good map here)

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something.

Full Moon - 29th (Visible all night - East around sunset, West around Sunrise)

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset - Mars (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night - Jupiter (E)

Planets you can see in the Morning - Jupiter (S), Venus (E)

Mercury - Pretty much hidden in the Sun's glare all month, although might be visible near the Moon on the 16th, with binoculars.

VENUS - A very high morning "star" this month. The brightest object in the morning East, will be lowest at 4am, rising up to about 40˚ by daybreak.  A telescope will allow you to see Venus in its gibbous phase.  Closest to the Moon on the 12th.

Mars - In the SW after sunset, and sets around 7:30pm.  Look for the reddish-hued object only about 10˚ above the horizon.  Very close to the Moon on the 17th.

JUPITER - Rises in the East after 9:30pm and visible until sunrise, when it's 50˚ above the SW horizon. Close to the Moon on the 5th.  Use binoculars or a telescope to try to see the four Galilean Moons.  If you're looking at Orion and Taurus in the morning, Jupiter's the very bright one above them.

Saturn - Not visible this month - behind the Sun.

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month - or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

Just after Sunset (sunset is around 6:30pm) - Cygnus the Swan and Lyra the Harp - Extra Challenge! Use binoculars (or even a telescope) and a star chart and try to find the faint fuzzy that is the Ring Nebula or M57 in Lyra - If you find it, you're looking at the remnants of star that exploded at a distance of 2,300 light years from Earth.

Between Sunset and Midnight - Lacerta, Pegasus (the Great Square)

Midnight - Pegasus, Andromeda - Extra Challenge! Using your naked eye (dark-adapted and in a dark area) or binoculars under normal conditions and a star chart, try finding our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy.  It'll be a faint, but bigger, fuzzy in the constellation Andromeda.

Early Morning - Auriga, Gemini - Extra Challenge! Using binoculars, find the bright and open cluster M35.  Find Gemini, look at the rightmost leg, go down to the foot, and move 2-3 degrees to the right (W).


Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look up after sunset and you'll be able to see Lyra (the Harp), Cygnus (the Swan), Aquila (the Eagle), (and Delphinus the Dolphin.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair - respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle.  Off to the east of this is the small but beautiful constellation of Delphinus. Being summer constellations and it being fall right now, they are setting and are visible for a shorter period of time each day.  If you're under dark skies (away from city lights) you may just catch a glimpse of the Milky Way passing through Cygnus and Aquila.

Fall Constellations: Andromeda, Pegasus

If you can find the Summer Triangle and Delphinus, about 40˚ to the East (leftish) will be the Great Square of the fall constellation Pegasus.  Perhaps you'll even see the two curves of Andromeda off of one side, with the Andromeda Galaxy as a small, faint fuzzy nearby (you'll need dark skies to see it).  A sky map will help you tremendously in finding these.  You'll see these in the East after sunset, straight above you around midnight, and in the West in the morning.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.