Saturday, October 1, 2016

Look At The Sky: Oct

The Planets for October:
A VERY poor October for viewing the major planets, with virtually all "wow" planets being in either daylight sky or in strong twilight at dusk or dawn; only the distant planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are visible all month in dark skies.

Mercury - Mercury is very close to the sun all month, starting October in very bright twilight of evening, then moving rapidly eastward  to enter the early morning twilight by month's end but in such bright sky that it will not be observable  - in LIBRA

Venus - our brightest planet will be finally moving into evening skies, visible only a very short while during strong twilight right after sunset; look for the planet low on the SE horizon at mid-month, but moving rapidly eastward throughout the month and eventually overtaking much dimmer SATURN on Oct. 28-29, at that time much higher in darker skies, but still very low in the SE sky. - moves rapidly from VIRGO into the head of SCORPIUS

Mars - Now just east of slightly dimmer SATURN and slowly moving eastward to increase that distance every successive night in October; by late month, the planet will be in evening dusk, setting about 10 p.m. local time.  Compare the ruddy red color of Mars with the yellow of Saturn - in SCORPIUS/Ophiuchus

Jupiter - Now rising in the EAST only minutes before twilight - in VIRGO

Saturn - Very low in western skies at dark and setting quickly after evening twilight disappears. - in SCORPIUS

Uranus - distant planet Uranus is overhead about 1:30 a.m. local time and is south of overhead by the time the evening sky is dark,  It shines at magnitude 5.9, bright enough to spot in good binoculars if one knows where to look; use a good planetarium sky program or GO TO telescope to locate this distant world; by sunrise it is high in dark skies and will show a faint, blue disk in large telescopes - PISCES

Neptune - At OPPOSITION on last month - look for faint Neptune in large telescopes at midmonth south of overhead about 10 p.m. local time.(mag. 7.6). - in AQUARIUS

Pluto - at magnitude 14.1, our most distant planet is very low in southern skies, in southwest about the time evening twilight darkens; note that on Oct. 8, Pluto will be just "under" (south of) the first quarter moon and just east of ruddy red and bright Mars in the dense clouds of the Sagittarius Milky Way - only 12 inch and larger telescopes can spot this world visually.  - in SAGITTARIUS

 Meteor Showers

The advent of crisper skies and cooler temperatures during fall months lure many sky watchers outdoors during October to view the impending autumn splendors of the Heavens.  In most of North America, it has been found that the month of OCTOBER is the "cloud-free-est" and the skies more deep clear and weather-free than any other month of the year;  the cool nighttime temperatures and waning mosquito populations (thank goodness this year!) are inviting to all of us to spend more time exploring the dark October night sky.   Fortunately October's premier meteor shower - the ORIONIDS - peak after the night of the last quarter moon and observers should work around the rising and setting times of the moon for every meteor shower for the duration of each peak.

October 7  - PISCID meteors - A very long duration (Sept 25 through Nov. 2) meteor shower, very low in southern skies; these are very slow moving meteors [only 29 kilometers per second (kps)] on the Pisces-Aries border; about 15 meteors per hour, some very nice with long trains, will be seen after midnight at which time the shower radiant will be located west of overhead.  The first quarter moon will be present in the sky until after midnight  this year, so viewing should be very fair for this shower in 2016, but better for those who observe later in the evening after the bright moon sets.

October 9  - DRACONID meteors - This is a very short duration meteor shower, unlike the Draconids (above).  It lasts only from Oct. 7 through 10th, producing a very erratic number of meteors as the Earth plummets head-on into this stream.  For example, in 1933, over 30,000 meteors per hour were estimated....from the Comet Giacobini-Zinner's disintegration, the Earth passed the comet only 15 days prior in 1947, resulting in about 1,000 per hours seen in that year.  This year, the moon will be a strong gibbous in the evening sky and really hinder on any day of this shower, so observers will have a poor opportunity for dark skies for the most meteors from this shower.  Note this "circumpolar" northern hemisphere shower to be seen at its best after midnight hours when the Earth is heading directly into the dawn it will be nearly directly overhead from mid-northern latitudes,  The actual number to expect is totally unknown, but you should be prepared for as many as 200-500 per hour during some encounters!

October 19 - EPSILON GEMINID meteors - This is a week-long meteor shower peaking like the Orionids (below) during a time a bit unfavorable for many faint meteors to be seen early since the moon will be a waning gibbous during this shower.   The shower actually begins about Oct. 1 with no particular sharp peak, so observing early in the morning on the first weeks might allow for some of the perhaps 5 per hour being seen....these are among the fastest of the meteors striking out atmosphere, traveling at about 70 kps.  The radiant rises about 10 p.m. on the 14th-15th, and will be overhead by dawn (northern hemisphere observers).  A very unfavorable year to witness this meteor shower.

October 21 - ORIONID meteors - A fair year for observing the famous Orionid Meteors since the moon will be last quarter and will rise in the east shortly after midnight.  With its origins in the famous Halley's Comet, this meteor shower is in the high southeastern sky (northern hemisphere) during early morning hours.  The radiant, from near the "club" of ORION, the hunter, rises about 9:30 p.m. local time and will be south of overhead about 5 a.m. when morning dawn commences.  Normally as many as 30-40 very faint and very fast yellowish meteors per hour can be seen from this group, traveling at actual speeds when they collide with the Earth of nearly 67 kilometers per second.  This will be a moderately good year for early observers for this dependable meteor shower,  Both bright and faint meteors should be seen this year, visible from this spectacular and historic meteor shower.  However, there ARE many associated bright meteors from this shower, so heads up!

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