As the month begins, both Venus and Saturn can be viewed right after sunset. Though Saturn quickly vanishes in the twilight, Jupiter appears in the late evening to fill in the gap; and Mars finally returns to the pre-dawn sky.
Venus continues to grace the early evening sky with its beauty and brilliance. This fall, the dazzling planet hovers low in the southwest, climbing less than ten degrees above the horizon. However, its brightness more than makes up for its lack of altitude: It is unmistakable as the Evening Star. By mid-month, Venus sets two hours after the Sun — a situation that will persist until winter arrives, and its reign as the Evening Star declines.
During the first few days of October, both Venus and Saturn are equidistant above the southwest horizon, with Venus some 15 degrees (two binocular fields) to the left of the much fainter ringed planet.
On October 7, a thin crescent Moon will appear mid-way between Venus and Saturn. Look for the soft glow of earthshine illuminating the otherwise dark portion of the lunar surface. The combination of a crescent Moon and Venus, shining in the twilight, is one of the most beautiful sights in the sky!
Saturn has spent the spring and summer shining among the stars of Libra and Virgo, and dominating the night sky. However, as Saturn continues its inevitable descent toward the western horizon, it becomes completely lost in the glow of twilight by mid-month. Though there’s no need to fret; the fabulous ringed planet will reappear in the dawn sky early in December.
On October 7, Saturn-lovers have one last chance to observe the target of their affections when a thin crescent Moon appears about ten degrees to the planet’s left: Binoculars will be absolutely necessary to distinguish the planet in the glow of twilight.
Jupiter rises just before midnight, and shines among the stars of Gemini, to the right of the bright star, Pollux. The giant planet dominates the morning sky throughout the month, and climbs some 50 degrees above the southeast horizon by dawn. Jupiter is a remarkable sight through a small telescope: It’s dark cloud bands, and constantly moving Galilean moons, always provide a spectacular show — especially on the night of October 11 to 12. On that date, from 00:32 to 01:37 A.M., Eastern Time, three of Jupiter’s moons (Io, Europa and Callisto) will cast their shadows on the planet’s cloud tops. This is a rare event that should not be missed: It won’t happen again until January 2015; the next time after that won’t be until 2032! Speaking of moons, the waning gibbous Moon will appear just below the giant planet on the night of October 25 to 26.
As the month begins, Mars rises just before 3:00 A.M. among the stars of Leo. Though the Red Planet is still too far from Earth to afford an interesting view through a telescope, the situation will improve by next spring. Mars is, nonetheless, a fascinating objet to track as it moves relentlessly eastward, toward the bright star, Regulus. On the mornings of October 15 & 16, the ruddy orange planet will be just one degree away from the brilliant blue star, providing an remarkable colour contrast in binoculars. Look for a waning crescent Moon to appear below Mars on the morning of October 1, and again on the 30th.
The starry sky…
This month the autumn stars approach their mid-season position. By mid-evening, Aquarius is on the meridian, followed in turn by Pegasus, Andromeda, Aries, Cetus and Pisces. Though autumn weather wastes no time arriving, the summer stars linger for a while longer, reminding us of warmer days gone by. Vega, Deneb and Altair, are off to the west; and in the southwest, Scorpius is setting, followed by Sagittarius, not far behind. In the east, Auriga and Taurus have already risen, while Orion and Gemini lie just below the horizon, waiting for November’s colder nights to arrive.