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Hal Kibbey

Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Venus, Jupiter and Saturn highlight October

Oct. 1, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Venus will appear low in the west-southwest after sunset during October, gradually moving higher as twilight fades. This beautiful "evening star" has probably provoked more UFO reports than any other object in the night sky. When the dazzling white planet passes just north of the bright orange star Antares on Oct. 26, you'll need binoculars to keep the star from being overwhelmed by the glare of its much brighter companion.

Jupiter will gleam far to the upper left (south) of Venus at dusk, pale compared with the evening star but brighter than any actual star. The distance between the two planets will shrink by half as the month advances, and they will have a close encounter near the end of November.

As dawn brightens, Saturn will be well up in the east-southeast, noticeably dimmer than usual because its rings have now closed to only a few degrees from edgewise for the first time in 12 years. Escorting Saturn on its upper right (south) will be the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion.

Mercury, the innermost planet, will pass between Earth and the sun into the morning sky on Oct. 6. By midmonth, Mercury will be visible above the eastern horizon a half hour before sunrise. It will be highest on Oct. 22, brightening each day and easy to find. It will continue to be a pretty sight for the rest of the month, accompanied by the bright white star Spica to its lower right (south). This will be Mercury's best morning appearance of the year for mid-northern latitudes.

Mars will be sinking into the afterglow of sunset as October begins. For the next few months, the red planet will be out of sight as it travels behind the sun.

Meteor shower

The Orionid meteor shower will peak before the first light of dawn on Oct. 21. Moonlight will obscure the fainter meteors, but observers with a dark sky may see a dozen meteors per hour and perhaps more. The Orionids appear to originate from the familiar 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 from Oct. 2 to Nov. 7, 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 at first quarter on Oct. 7, full on Oct. 14, at third quarter on Oct. 21 and new on Oct. 28.