What’s up? October’s night sky

Diagram of October 10's night sky

The thin crescent Moon will be near Venus and Mars in the western sky around sunset on October 10, 2010.

This month is a pretty bare one for planet watchers, with both Mercury and Saturn too close (in angle) to the Sun to be visible. Venus, which has been shining brightly and prominently in the western sky during and after sunset, will drop below the horizon in the second half of the month. This means that the only naked-eye planets to be seen all month long will be Jupiter and Mars.

October 1

The Moon will be at Last Quarter today, at 1:52pm Sydney time (or 03:52 Universal Time).

October 2

The crescent Moon will be near the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini.

October 5

If you’re up early, you’ll see the crescent Moon near the star Regulus, which is the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

October 6

The Moon is at perigee today—the point in its elliptical orbit when it is closest to Earth—at a distance of 359,452 kilometres.

October 8

It’s New Moon today, at 5:44am Sydney time (or 18:44 Universal Time on October 7). In the western sky, Mars and Venus will be close together

October 10

The Moon will appear near to the planets Venus and Mars in the western sky. It’s easy to tell which planet is which—Venus appears bigger and brighter with a whitish colour, while Mars is dimmer and has a ruddy orangey-red colour. Venus is dropping down lower toward the horizon, and will be gone from view in the second half of October.

October 11

Watch for the Moon near another well-known star; this time it is Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Compare the colour of Antares with the planet Mars, and you’ll see they look very much alike. The name Antares means “rival of Mars”.

October 15

The Moon will be at First Quarter today, at 8:27am Sydney time (or 21:27 Universal Time on October 14).

October 19

The Moon is at apogee today—the point in its elliptical orbit when it is furthest from Earth—at a distance of 405,432 kilometres.

October 20

The Moon will appear near the planet Jupiter tonight.

October 20-24

The Orionid meteor shower will be on display, with perhaps up to 20-30 meteors visible per hour from a dark location. As their name suggests, the Orionids appear to emanate from the constellation Orion, which is currently in the north-eastern sky (for Southern Hemisphere observers) in the hours between midnight and dawn. The problem this year, however, is that the Moon will be big and bright in the sky, and the wash from its light tends to drown out faint meteors. Still, give it a go and you might see some Orionids.

October 23

It’s Full Moon today, which occurs at 12:36pm Sydney time (or 01:36 Universal Time).

October 25

Last month, the Moon twice came quite close to a small star cluster called the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, in the constellation Taurus. Well, tonight they get together again. If you have a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, take a look at the Pleiades—they’re a beautiful sight to behold.

October 30

The Moon will be at Last Quarter today, at 10:46pm Sydney time (or 12:46 Universal Time). Have a look tonight and you’ll see that, just like on the 2nd, the Moon will be near the stars Castor and Pollux.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, please use the feedback form below. Happy stargazing!

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  1. Jonathan Nally says:

    You’re welcome Pete.
    I have a soft spot for Mars — it was the first planet I identified when I was a kid.
    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  2. Peter Gossner says:

    Hey thanks for this run through.
    I am never sure which planet is really Mars 🙂