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.
The innermost planet is very low in the dawn twilight, at magnitude –1.0 and rising just before 6am. It then moves down into the pre-dawn glow and disappears from sight.
Climbing above the horizon about 3am, Venus appears as the dazzling Morning Star, at magnitude –4.4, reaching its greatest separation from the Sun on 23rd October. It is joined by the crescent Moon, along with the star Regulus, on the mornings of 10th and 11th of the month.
The red planet is too close to the Sun for safe observation this month.
The gas giant is brilliant in the southern sky, within the constellation of Aries. It rises above the horizon about 7pm, with a magnitude of –2.9. It is the brightest object in the evening sky, except for the Moon. On the 1st night of the month, these two major night lights get together with the almost full Moon sailing over Jupiter. They meet again on the 28th when the full Supermoon is partially eclipsed.
Located in the constellation of Aquarius. Shinning at magnitude +0.6 it is Setting below the horizon around 2.30am. The almost half Moon is nearby on the 23rd and 24th of the month.
Uranus is just visible to the naked eye, at magnitude +5.6 but much easily seen with binoculars or a low power telescope. Visible all night long, from 7pm you will find the seventh planet in the constellation of Aires. Jupiter has been approaching Uranus for months, and the distance has narrowed to 8 degrees by the start of October, but the giant planet starts to back away again.
You will need good binoculars or a telescope to track down Neptune. Shinning with a measly magnitude of +7.8 Neptune lies between the two gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, and will fall below the horizon around 5am.
This distant planet can be observed in a ten-inch or larger telescope. It can be found in the constellation of Sagittarius, at magnitude +14.4. Pluto falls below the horizon shortly after 11pm.
This dwarf planet is located in the constellation of Libra. With a Magnitude +8.83, it sets just after 7pm.
Highlights for this month
1st October – The almost full Moon glides just above the gas giant planet Jupiter.
2nd October – The Pleiades star cluster lie just to the left of the Moon, with bright Jupiter just to the right.
3rd October – The Moon passes between the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades.
6th October – The last quarter Moon is the twin stars of Castor and Pollux.
10th October – Just before dawn breaks the crescent Moon lies above bright Venus, with the star Regulus between them both.
11th October – Brilliant Venus and the crescent Moon make another stunning pairing, with Regulus above them.
18th October – The crescent Moon is close to the star Antares.
23rd and 24th October – The almost half Moon is near bright Saturn.
28th October – The full Moon has a partial eclipse, when about 12% of the Moon’s grey surface is obscured by the Earth’s shadow. It all begins at 8.35pm and ends at 9.53pm. The bright object nearby is the planet Jupiter.
29th October – The almost full Moon lies between bright Jupiter, to the right and the Pleiades star cluster to the left.
29th October – at 2am British Summer Time ends as the clocks go backwards by an hour.
30th October – The Pleiades are now above the Moon.
There are two meteor showers this month
October 9th 2023, the Draconids. The radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon in the northern sky. That’s why the Draconids are best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere.
The Draconid shower is a real oddity, in that the radiant point stands highest in the sky as darkness falls. That means that, unlike many meteor showers, more Draconids are likely to fly in the evening hours than in the morning hours after midnight.
The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks in the late night of 21st October and early morning of 22nd October. It will be a dark sky after the moon falls below the horizon around 10pm. 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.
On 30th and 31st look out for ‘Halloween fireballs’, brilliant meteors from Encke’s Comet called the Taurids. They reach their peak next month.
Phases of the Moon:-
Last quarter 6th October
New Moon 14th October
First quarter 22nd October
Full Moon 28th October