The glories of October’s night sky can at best be described as ‘Subtle’. The dull autumn constellations are already being challenged by the brilliant lights of winter. Spearheaded by the beautiful star cluster of the Pleiades.
Ursa Major, or the Plough, is to all intents and purposes at its lowest in the North. The ‘W’ of Cassiopeia is not far from the overhead point.
The summer triangle of Altair, Deneb and Vega remains high up. The barren square of Pegasus dominates the southern sky, with Andromeda attached it its side. The bright star Capella in the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer is becoming more noticeable in the east. It will be overhead in winter evenings.
Although the four stars that form the Square of Pegasus are not the brightest, once found they will be easily recognised again. If you use the two right hand stars of the square and draw a line to the south you will reach a bright star very low in the sky. This star is Fomalhaut, in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish.
Right at the end of October, look low in the southwest after sunset to catch Venus re-appearing in the evening sky. At magnitude –3.9, it’s setting about 6.30pm.
Sweep the sky to the lower left of Venus with binoculars, and you may just catch Mercury tightly hugging the horizon and setting a few minutes earlier than Venus. After the 20th of the month (When Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation) its magnitude fades from 0.0 to +0.6 at the close of the month.
Lording it over the evening sky, Jupiter shines brilliantly in Ophiuchus at magnitude -2.0, setting around 8.30pm.
Saturn in Sagittarius sets about 10.30pm. Its ten times fainter than Jupiter at magnitude +0.5.
Dim Neptune with a magnitude of +7.8 lies in Aquarius and sets around 4am.
Uranus is at opposition on the 28th of the month, and is visible all night long in Aries. The planet reaches its maximum brightness of the year at magnitude +5.7, so its just visible with the naked eye, and can be easily seen with binoculars.
In the dawn sky, look out for Mars in the east, rising around 6am. The red planet lies in Virgo, at magnitude +1.8, and becomes more apparent during October as dawn comes ever later.
There are two meteor showers this month. The Draconids on the night of the 8th into the morning of the 9th and the Orionids on the 21st into the 22nd before dawn. However neither showers are spectacular, and the bright Moonlight will interfere with the observation of them.
British Summer Time ends at 2am on Sunday 27th October, when the clocks go back by an hour.
Phases of the Moon:-
First quarter 5th October
Full Moon 13th October
Last quarter 21st October
New Moon 28th October