What to see in October’s night sky

Highlights: Venus, Mars and Saturn may still be seen in October’s evening sky. Mercury is visible before dawn in the first few days of the month. Uranus reaches opposition, on the opposite side of the sky to the Sun.

Welcome to Skymania’s guide to the night sky in October, 2016. You will find a map of the whole visible sky, which can be adjusted for any time and date, plus information on the position of the planets, phases of the Moon, and notable astronomical events to watch out for. (To open the sky map in a separate window, click here.) For the night sky in the southern hemisphere, click here.

The sky in October 2016

Summary: Giant planet Jupiter reappears at the end of the month in the pre-dawn sky after lying on the far side of the Sun. Venus, Saturn and Mars are low in early evening skies from the northern hemisphere. Uranus reaches opposition this month, on the 15th, and may easily be found with binoculars throughout the night. (We’ve advice on choosing binoculars or a telescope here.)

The planets

mercurythmMercury is in the morning, pre-dawn sky during early October, and can be spotted by northern hemisphere observers with a good eastern horizon in the first week or so of the month, before it then sinks rapidly back towards the Sun. It reaches the far side of the Sun (an event known as superior conjunction) on 27 October. Here’s more on how to observe Mercury.

venusthmVenus is also in the evening sky, shining at magnitude -4, but is very low over the western horizon from northern latitudes, making it extremely difficult to spot. Conversely, it shines nice and high in a twilight sky from the southern hemisphere. Here are tips on how to observe Venus.

marsthmMars can be found shining at magnitude 0.4 in the teapot asterism of Sagittarius, low to the south, as the evening sky darkens. It is now long past its best. The Moon will be near Mars on the 7th and 8th. Find out more about Mars here including maps to show its position in the sky.

jupiterthmJupiter is too close to the Sun in the sky to observe during the first half of the month, following superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun last month. 26 September. But you might spot it towards the end of October, shining at magnitude -1.2. The Moon will be very close on the morning of 28 October.

saturnthmSaturn shines at around magnitude +0.7 in the early evening sky, very low in the south-west. Towards the end of the month, it closes in on Venus. The crescent moon lies close to Saturn on 5th and 6th, in twilight. Saturn’s rings are very widely opened now and so may be well seen in a small telescope.
uranus_thmUranus reaches opposition this month, on the 13th, and so will be visible all night long. The planet is just visible to the unaided eye if you have an exceptionally clear, dark sky, but binoculars make it much easier to spot. You can find it in shining at magnitude 6.0 in the constellation of Pisces. Our guide will help you to locate Uranus, and you can also read more about the planet here.
neptune_thmNeptune, the last of the eight worlds recognised as planets in our Solar System, is visible with binoculars or a small telescope as soon as it gets dark, in the constellation of Aquarius, shining at magnitude 7.6. You can find it less than 2° to the right of the naked-eye star λ (lambda) Aquarii as seen from the northern hemisphere. A telescope will show a tiny disk and give a hint of its bluish hue.

Dust from Halley’s Comet

Orionid meteors at maximum. The Orionids are a fairly reliable shower, formed from the dust shed by Halley’s Comet, that might be expected to produce a Zenithal Hourly Rate (the number seen under optimum conditions if the radiant were overhead) of around 20. However, this is not a good year to observe them as the waning gibbous Moon will be around for most of the night, drowning out many meteors with its light.

The Moon

The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! Don’t have a telescope? Here’s our guide to choosing one.

Phases of the Moon

PhaseNew Moon: Oct 1
First Quarter: Oct 9
Full Moon: Oct 16
Last Quarter: Oct 22
New Moon: Oct 30
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon

moon_in_relief_thmHere’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Click here for pages of charts that will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!

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