The Night Sky This Month – October 2012
Posted by Brian Ventrudo
Saturn and Mars fade into the sunset this month, but not before Mars makes a close mid-month pass near a brilliant red-orange star, a star which takes its name from the Red Planet. Venus comes within a hair’s breadth of bright Regulus in the pre-dawn sky early in October. And you can see two meteor showers including one of the year’s best as the Earth passes through the wake of Comet Halley. Here’s what to look for in the night sky this month…
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3 Oct. In the pre-dawn hours, look for bright Venus passing just 0.2º from the 1st-magnitude star Regulus in the constellation Leo in the eastern sky (see image below). The two objects remain close from Oct. 1-5.
8 Oct. Last Quarter Moon, 7:33 UT.
15 Oct. New Moon, 12:03 UT.
15 Oct. The Taurid meteor shower is a lengthy but scant spray of a few meteors each hour over late October, November, and early December. You may see an occasional bright meteor– even a fireball– because of the uneven debris field of Comet Encke through which the Earth passes this time each year. If you see any bright meteors, if you can trace them back to a point in the small V-shaped constellation Taurus. Taurus rises late in the evening this month and contains the lovely Hyades and Pleiades star clusters.
15-31 Oct. The zodiacal light (or “false dawn”) is visible in very dark sky about 90 minutes before sunrise.
18 Oct. Mars passes a few degrees above the red-orange star Antares (see below). While nearly lost in the southwestern sky in the glare of sunset, these two objects are worthy of inspection in binoculars. The crescent Moon hovers nearby… a photo-op, perhaps? Antares is often mistaken for Mars, and vice-versa. The name Antares means “compared to Mars”, or Ares, the Greek equivalent of the god Mars. You can learn more about Antares here.
20 Oct. The Orionid meteor shower peaks from Oct. 20-24. One of the finest of all meteor showers, the Orionids present perhaps 20-40 fast-moving meteors per hour in dark sky. The Moon will be out of the way this year so the sky should remain dark. The radiant of the Orionids is near the club of Orion, but you can see the meteors anywhere in the sky in both hemispheres (you don’t even need to know what Orion looks like… just look up anywhere in the sky and start watching). Early morning, from 3 a.m. local time through dawn, is the best time to observe the shower. Bundle up! The Orionid meteors are bits of Comet Halley that hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere, as are the Aquariid meteors in May.
22 Oct. First Quarter Moon, 3:32 UT.
29 Oct. Full Moon, 19:49 UT.