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.
Venus is setting about 7.30pm. It is gradually brightening down in the south west after sunset, from magnitude –4.2 at the start of October to -4.4 by the end of the month. As Venus draws closer t the Earth, it passes above Antares on 16th of the month.
Through a telescope, you can see Venus’s shape slowly changing, like the phases of the Moon. The planet is half lit (Known as dichotomy) on 28th October. It reaches its maximum separation from the Sun on 29th.
In Capricornus, Saturn at magnitude +0.5 is setting around midnight.
Its giant neighbour Jupiter, blazing at magnitude –2.6, sinks below the horizon about 2 am.
Din Neptune, magnitude +7.8 is I Aquarius, sets around 4.30 am.
Uranus in Aries rises about 6.30 pm.
The innermost planet is putting on its best morning appearance of the year. Located low in the east before dawn mid month, at magnitude +1.5. Throughout the month Mercury brightens, becoming easier to spot. It reaches magnitude –0.8 by the months end. It is at its maximum separation from the Sun on 25th October, when it rises at 5.25pm.
Mars is to close to the Sun for observation this month.
Highlights for this month
9th October, Look out for a stunning sight low in the south west after sunset, as the narrow crescent Moon nuzzles up to Venus. The star to the left of this combination is Antares.
13th October, to the left of the first quarter Moon are the planets Saturn and Jupiter.
14th October, The Moon lies below and between Jupiter to the left and Saturn to the right.
15th October, The bright star above the Moon is Jupiter, with Saturn to the right.
22nd October, The almost full Moon is near to the Pleiades star cluster.
23rd October, The Moon passes over the Hyades star cluster and the red star Aldebaran.
27th October, The almost last quarter Moon at 9.05pm will be very close to M44 The Beehive star cluster.
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 21st October and early morning of 22nd October. The bright moon light spoils the display, however if you’re fortunate 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 31st October, when the clocks go back by an hour.
Phases of the Moon:-
New Moon 6th October
First quarter 13th October
Full Moon 20th October
Last quarter 28th October