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Hal Kibbey

Last modified: Friday, October 1, 2010


Summer nights give way to the longer nights of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere

Oct. 1, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As the short nights of summer give way to the longer nights of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, skywatchers anticipating more favorable viewing conditions may be surprised to find that there are not many planets to see this month.

Jupiter will come into view above the southeastern horizon shortly after sundown in October. Almost at its biggest and brightest, the huge planet will be visible nearly all night. It will reach its highest point in the south in late evening, so that will be the best time for viewing it with a telescope.


Photo courtesy of NASA


Print-Quality Photo

You'll have a rare chance to see the planet Uranus this month, using Jupiter as a conspicuous guide. On Oct. 1, Uranus will be just 1.4 degrees to the northeast of Jupiter, and the two will appear in the same field of view in 7 by 50 binoculars. The gap between them will grow to 3 degrees by month's end. Though Uranus appears near Jupiter in the sky, it is actually five times farther from Earth.

Venus will be only a short distance above the southwestern horizon as the sky darkens after sunset at the beginning of the month, but it will be so brilliant that you'll spot it easily if you have a clear view in that direction. Don't wait long to look, however, for Venus will set less than an hour after the sun. By midmonth it will be out of sight in the solar glare, and it will pass between Earth and the sun on Oct. 28.

Mars will be difficult to see without binoculars in the glow of evening twilight. Look for the pale orange planet above Venus low in the west-southwest at dusk, before it follows Venus into the sunset glow later in the month. Mars won't be visible to the unaided eye again until late next spring.

Mercury will rise in the east an hour before the sun on Oct. 1 and be visible above the horizon a half hour later. But it will rapidly disappear into the glare of sunrise during the first week of the month, passing behind the sun on Oct. 17 on its way to the evening sky.

Saturn will emerge from behind the sun into the morning sky during the second half of October. Appearing very low near the eastern horizon, the yellow planet may be easily confused with the bright orange star Arcturus at the same altitude to the left (north).

Meteor shower

The Orionid meteor shower will peak before the first light of dawn on Oct. 21. Unfortunately, light from the nearly full moon will overwhelm all but the brightest meteors that night. Observers with a dark sky may see some meteors during the early morning hours in the middle of the month, when the moon will not interfere. The Orionids appear to originate from the constellation Orion the Hunter. Orion will rise before midnight in the east-southeast, and the number of meteors will increase as it gets higher above the horizon. The shower will be active for most of October, with the number of meteors gradually increasing from the start and declining after the peak. The Orionid meteors are dust particles from Halley's Comet, left behind in the comet's orbit.

Moon phases

The moon will be new on Oct. 7, at first quarter on Oct. 14, full on Oct. 22 and at third quarter on Oct. 30.