The Sky This Month – October 2016

harvest_moonThey’ve put on a brilliant show in the past several months, but Saturn and Mars slowly fade into the sunset this month in the southwestern sky. The two planets, along with the Moon and Venus, are a beautiful sight on Oct. 3-5 in the southwest. The Orionid meteor shower also peaks this month as the Earth passes through a stream of debris from Comet Halley. And there’s a “Black Moon” this month, defined as two New Moons in a single calendar month (as defined in Universal Time). Here’s what to look for in the night sky this month…

1 October. New Moon, 00:11 UT.

3 Oct. Look for the waxing crescent Moon within 4º of Venus low in the southwestern sky after sunset.

The waxing crescent Moon, Venus, Saturn, and Mars as seen after sunset on Oct. 4, 2016. Created with SkyX Serious Astronomer by Software Bisque.

The waxing crescent Moon, Venus, Saturn, and Mars as seen after sunset on Oct. 4, 2016. Created with SkyX Serious Astronomer by Software Bisque.

9 Oct. First Quarter Moon, 04:33 UT

13 Oct. Neptune lies a little over a degree south of the waxing gibbous Moon during the early hours of Oct. 13.

15 Oct. Uranus is at opposition, rising in the east as the Sun sets in the west. The planet is well east of the Circlet of Pisces just northeast of the star ζ (zeta) Psc. See image below. The planet reaches magnitude 5.7 and has a disk about 3.7″ across at opposition. You can see it easily in binoculars. A telescope at 50x or more will show the pale blue-green disk.

The position of Uranus in mid-October 2016 in the constellation Pisces.

The position of Uranus in mid-October 2016 in the constellation Pisces.

16 Oct. Full Moon, 04:23 UT (The “Hunter’s Moon”).

18-19 Oct. For observers in much of North America, a waning gibbous Moon passes in front of the bright star Aldebaran, the brightest star in the V-shaped constellation Taurus. The rest of the world sees the Moon pass closely by this bright orange star. The show starts in the early hours of Oct. 19 for eastern observers, and an hour or two before midnight on Oct. 18 for observers in southwestern U.S. and Mexico.

Oct. 19-22. The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks during these days, especially in the early-morning hours of October 21. One of the finest of all meteor showers, the Orionids present perhaps 20-40 fast-moving meteors per hour in dark sky. The waning Moon, unfortunately, will brighten the sky enough to obscure the fainter meteors this year. The radiant of the Orionids is near the club of Orion, but you can see the meteors anywhere in the sky in both hemispheres. You don’t even need to know what Orion looks like… just look up anywhere in the sky and start watching.  Early morning, from 3 a.m. local time through dawn, is the best time to observe the shower, especially on Oct. 21. The Orionid meteors are tiny pieces of Comet Halley that hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The constellation Orion and an Orionid meteor (credit: Mike Lewinsky via Flickr).

The constellation Orion and an Orionid meteor (credit: Mike Lewinsky via Flickr).

22 Oct. Last Quarter Moon, 19:14 UT

26 Oct. After a splendid apparition this year in which it was close to the planet Mars and the bright star Antares, Saturn fades this month in the southwestern sky after sunset. Today, the planet comes within 5º of the much brighter planet Venus after the Sun goes down.

27 Oct. Mercury is in superior conjunction on the opposite side as the Sun from Earth.

29 Oct. New Moon, 17:38 UT. This is a “Black Moon”, a second New Moon in the calendar month.

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