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.
Mars is outshining everything else in the evening sky, nestled among the dim stars of Pisces. At opposition on the 13th of the month, the red planet blazes at magnitude –2.6, and is visible all night long.
Nearby Uranus also reaches peak magnitude at opposition this month; but 2000 times fainter at magnitude +5.7. With binoculars you can observe it throughout the night in Aries.
Low in the south west after sunset, brilliant Jupiter runs Mars a very close second at magnitude –2.3. Lying in Sagittarius, the giant planet sets around 10.30pm.
Saturn lies to the left of Jupiter, also in Sagittarius. Fifteen times fainter at magnitude +0.5, the ringworld is setting about 11pm.
With binoculars or a telescope, you can Neptune; at magnitude +7.8, in Aquarius, setting around 4am.
If you are up early around 3.30am, look out for resplendent Venus rising in the east. With a magnitude of –4.0, the morning star is even brighter than Mars. On the Morning of the 3rd October, Venus skims only 12 arcminutes from the star Regulus.
Tiny Mercury is too close to the Sun for observation this month.
Highlights for this month include; two full Moons. The first occurs on 1st October, traditionally known as the Harvest Moon and the second on 31st October, known as the Hunter’s Moon, or Blue Moon, as it’s the second full Moon to occur in a month.
The New Moon falls on 16th October.
There are two meteor showers this month. The Draconids on the night of the 8th into the morning of the 9th and the Orionids However neither showers are spectacular,
The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks in the late night of 20th October and early morning of 21st October. There will be no Moon in the sky to interfere, so you may see up to 20 meteors per hour. Even though the ‘shooting stars’ are relatively faint, they do leave persistent trains of ionised gas.
In addition, as the radiant occurs near the Constellation of Orion, which rises from 10.45pm, you may see rare Earth Grazers. Meteors skim the surface of our atmosphere like a flat stone travelling over the surface of water. From the low position on the horizon, they travel horizontally overhead, which is why they appear long and bright.
British Summer Time ends at 2am on Sunday 25th October, when the clocks go back by an hour.
Phases of the Moon:-
Full Moon 1st October
Last quarter 10th October
New Moon 16th October
First quarter 23rd October
Full Moon 31st October