Last modified: Wednesday, October 2, 2002
STAR TRAK/October 2002
Saturn and Jupiter dominate the night sky
Venus will gradually slip into the solar glare during October, appearing just above the southwestern horizon as the sun disappears for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. Still a brilliant white, the "evening star" will set an hour after the sun at the beginning of the month and a few minutes earlier each night after that. Finally it will vanish with the sun on Oct. 23.
Bright yellow Saturn will rise just before midnight local time during October. Saturn will spend the month near the upraised club of Orion the Hunter. The planet's famous rings will be on display in any small telescope.
Jupiter will rise an hour or so after midnight and be at its best in the early morning hours. In a clear sky, binoculars will show the four Galilean moons of Jupiter strung out on both sides of the brilliant white planet. Jupiter will move away from the Beehive star cluster during October.
Far to the lower left (north) of Jupiter, Mars will rise in the east around the start of morning twilight during October, so dim that it will be difficult to find without a telescope in the brightening sky.
Mercury will follow directly below Mars during the middle two weeks of the month, quickly becoming brighter as it gets closer to Mars. The two planets will be closest on Oct. 10. This will be Mercury's best morning appearance of the year for those watching in the Northern Hemisphere.
Information about solar and other space "weather" is available at http://www.spacew.com/. Click on the image of the sun to see what sunspots are currently visible.
Locations of current auroral activity can be seen at http://www.sec.noaa.gov/pmap/. Click on "Aurora Viewing" for tips on when an aurora may be visible in your area.
The Orionid meteor shower will peak on the night of Oct. 21-22. Unfortunately, the full moon will obscure all but the brightest meteors. The Orionids take their name from the constellation Orion the Hunter, which is where they appear to originate. Actually they are dust particles from Halley's Comet, left behind in the comet's orbit as it passed by. Observers with a clear dark sky can expect to see perhaps 10 meteors per hour after midnight, when Orion will be fairly high above the eastern horizon.
The moon will be new on Oct. 6, at first quarter on Oct. 13, full on Oct. 21 (traditionally called the Hunter's Moon) and at third quarter on Oct. 29.