Planets in October
Venus holds steady all month
Venus is that blazing light you see in the western sky at dusk all month, outshining all other points of light in the sky. The planet’s appearance remains remarkably consistent all month; Venus emerges about 1/4th of the way up in the western sky as it gets dark, and sets around 8 p.m.
Like all the planets, Venus does appear to move against the starry background, and in fact crosses in front of three constellations in the course of the month (Libra, Scorpius and Ophiuchus). However, the relative motions of earth and Venus around the sun during the month make result in a very consistent apparition of our sister planet this October, emerging low and bright at dusk and hitting the west horizon around 8 p.m.
Venus was paired with Jupiter for August and the first part of September, but spends early October on its own, except for a visit from the crescent moon on October 3. At the end of the month, look for a gathering of Venus and the planet Saturn, both near the star Antares in Scorpius.
Saturn; Saturn and Venus
Saturn starts the month above 1/3 of the way up in the southwest at dusk, setting a little before 10 p.m. As the slowest-moving of the naked-eye planets, it has been lingering near the bright star Antares all summer. Saturn starts the month almost exactly halfway between Mars, to its left, and Venus to its right, each planet separated from Venus by the width of two palms. By the end of October Saturn is only about 1/4th of the way up in the west at dusk, paired with bright Venus at its side; and both planets will set by 8 p.m.
As the month goes on, the planet Venus approaches Saturn and Antares, and the three dots spent the last ten days of the month forming an ever-changing set of triangles with each other.
There will be a little deja-vu here. For much of this last summer, Mars and Saturn danced around Antares, forming an ever-changing progression of triangles. By late October, and with Mars now far to the right of Antares and Saturn, Venus performs a similar ballet with Antares and Saturn. To see the gathering, look southwest around 7 p.m. From October 21-26, Venus forms the lowest dot of the triangle, with pale-orange Antares to its left and yellow-white Saturn at the top of the triangle. On the night of the 27th the three dots will form a straight line, with blazing Venus in the middle, Antares below and Saturn above. Venus dominates the trio, dozens of times brighter than the star below it and the planet above it.
For the last days of October, there will still be a triangle of these three dots; but from October 25 onwards, Venus will now the to the left of the other dots; the two planets Venus and Saturn will now appear side by side, with Antares hanging below them like a pendant.
Mars on its own
Like Venus this month, Mars seems to hold steady: in this case, emerging halfway up in the southwest at dusk, and setting in the west just before 11 p.m. The planet shines respectably at 0 magnitude, and pops out nicely admit the second-magnitude stars of Sagittarius.
Jupiter: back already
While we lost Jupiter behind the sun in September, it comes back to our skies quickly; look for it in the east before daybreak from about October 10 onwards. Catch it rising at 5:45 a.m. in the east on October 10 and you’ll see Mercury right beside the king of the planets. By the end of October, Jupiter rises at 4:45 a.m. and is well up in the eastern sky at daybreak. Since Jupiter is emerging from the far side of the sun it will be dimmer than usual at minus 1.68, but still brighter than any star in the sky.
Mercury had its best morning appearance of the year in late September and it’s still looking good in early October. For the first week of the month, look for Mercury rising in the east at 5:15 a.m., shining brilliantly at 0.6 magnitude. The planet gets lost in the dawn glow by 6:00 a.m. As the days go by, Mercury rises later – by 5:30 a.m. on the 8th – that the time to catch it before daybreak gets very narrow. If you have a good flat east horizon on the 10th, look for Mercury and Jupiter rising together; this will be about the last hurrah for Mercury, as it gets lost in the light of the rising sun by mid-October.
Other sky events in October
Supermoon October 15-16
This will be the first of three full moon ‘supermoons’ in a row. The moon will be a little closer to earth than average for a full moon on this evening, and thus will be a little bigger and brighter than the norm.
Supermoon background: the term ‘supermoon’ is a recent invention and has received a fair amount of media attention in the last few years. The term has come to refer to a full moon that occurs when the moon is near its closest point to earth in its slightly oval path around our planet. Since the moon’s path is oval, or elliptical, it can be as close as 225,600 miles from us or as far as 252,000 miles. When the moon is at the closest point to earth in its monthly path around the earth it is said to be at ‘perigee.’ A supermoon is a just a full moon that occurs in the same day that the moon is at perigee. Since it’s a little closer than usual, the moon appears a little large than a ‘normal’ full moon.
Orionid Meteor Shower
Peak: night of October 21-22; the night of October 20-21 should also be good. Active period: October 15-25. Like the Eta Aquarids in May, this one is caused by debris from Halley’s Comet. Up to 20-25 meteors per hour. WE do have interference from the moon this year, that said, due to a waning gibbous moon in the sky right as the shower peaks.
For all meteor showers, the viewing will be better after midnight. These repeating annual events are caused as the earth enters into debris left over from a specific comet such as Halley’s. As the earth goes around the sun, our planet runs into the same debris at the same time each year. This is why these showers occur at the same time each year. After midnight, the part of the earth that you are on is facing toward the debris that causes the meteor shower. This is why all meteor showers are better after midnight.
To view shooting star showers, just find a dark location (as little city light as possible) and get comfortable (a lawn chair is a good idea).
More on meteor showers:
October Sky Map
Like all of our monthly maps, this one is good for 10 p.m. on the first day of the month, 9 p.m. for the middle of the month, and for 8 p.m. at the end.
Moon phases (Hawaiian Time zone):
New: September 30, October 30
First Quarter: October 8
Full: October 15
Third Quarter: October 22
A busy fall for Bishop Museum’s J. Watumull Planetarium!
This October laser light shows return to Bishop Museum. Laser shows debut on Saturday October 8; from then till Halloween day itself, we’ll offer the Halloween laser light show Fright Light as a daily matinee, 12:00 noon and 2:30 p.m. Evening rock shows on Fridays and Saturdays, October 8-29, include Laser Zeppelin at 8 p.m. and Laser Floyd Dark Side the Moon at 9 p.m.
We’re also featuring the planetarium theater piece The Boy who Fell in Love with a Star, developed by and starring beloved story tellers/performers Jeff Gere and Adela Chu. Weekends, 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., October 15 – November 13. This charming program, ideal for preschoolers and early elementary students and any big people with them, is an encore of a program first developed by Jeff and Adela in the 1980s.
Stars and Guitars continues on the first and third Saturdays at 8 p.m. as well. I’ll be playing music of Spain on my classical guitar for the October 1 show, and “classical guitar music from the movies” on October 15. The October 15 show is also the night of the first supermoon of the year and that will also be a focus of the show.
Please visit the planetarium website for more information: http://www.bishopmuseum.org/planetarium/