Moon and plan­ets move closer, pair­ing up for a cos­mic Oc­to­ber dance

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY BLAINE P. FRIED­LAN­DER JR. Fried­lan­der can be reached at PostSkyWatch@ya­hoo.com.

Oc­to­ber’s morn­ing sky re­sem­bles a cos­mic con­tra dance, as the moon and a few plan­ets pair with part­ners for charm­ing con­junc­tions.

Wake early Wed­nes­day (about 4 a.m.) and search the eastern heav­ens to find a wan­ing cres­cent moon as it ap­proaches the plan­ets Venus, Mars and Jupiter in the con­stel­la­tion Leo. On Thurs­day, the cres­cent moon aims to win the af­fec­tions of a quite bright Venus (-4.6 mag­ni­tude) un­der the starry lion’s feet.

Al­ways in mo­tion, the moon vis­its Earth’s red neigh­bor, Mars, and the gi­ant Jupiter the next morn­ing, Fri­day. More dim than Venus, Mars is seen at +1.8 mag­ni­tude, which is dif­fi­cult to dis­cern in ur­ban, light-pol­luted con­di­tions. Jupiter, how­ever, is a bright -1.7 mag­ni­tude.

By Satur­day, the moon will have leapt past Mars and Jupiter. The fleet Mer­cury (zero mag­ni­tude) ap­pears just above the eastern hori­zon as the el­derly moon drops by Oct. 11. Tech­ni­cally a wan­ing cres­cent, the thin moon meets Mer­cury very low on the morn­ing’s hori­zon.

Over the sub­se­quent days, along the morn­ing’s skygaz­ing boule­vard, we draw near to Con­junc­tion Junction: Through­out the sec­ond week in Oc­to­ber, Mars and Jupiter get no­tice­ably closer, so that on Oct. 17, they of­fi­cially con­junct. Plan­e­tary move­ment doesn’t stop, as lu­mi­nous Venus con­juncts Jupiter on Oct. 26 be­fore dawn in the eastern sky. En­joy a full moon Oct. 27. For the evening heav­ens, find

Saturn (zero mag­ni­tude, bright) in the south­west­ern sky at sunset. The large planet sets just be­fore 9 p.m. this week, and it sets around 8:30 p.m. near mid-month. The young cres­cent moon vis­its the ringed planet Oct. 15-16. At the end of Oc­to­ber, Saturn sets about 7:40 p.m.

Oc­to­ber’s Ori­onid me­teor shower could peak at about 20 me­te­ors per hour on the night of Oct. 21/22, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Me­teor Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Royal As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety of Canada. If you gaze to­ward the heav­ens on this night, you might catch just a few.

And just a prepara­tory note to those who crave ex­tra sleep: We change to stan­dard time Nov. 1, fall­ing back an hour.

Down-to-Earth Events:

l Mon­day: “The Search for Po­ten­tial, Hab­it­able Worlds,” a

talk by NASA re­search sci­en­tist Ravi Ku­mar Kop­pa­rapu, at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. 9 p.m. De­light in the heav­ens through tele­scopes af­ter­ward, weather per­mit­ting. www.as­tro.umd.edu/ open­house.

l Mon­day: “Stars Tonight,” at the David M. Brown Plan­e­tar­ium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Ar­ling­ton. 7:30 p.m. Chil­dren/se­niors: $3. Gen­eral: $5.

friend­soft­he­p­lan­e­tar­ium.org.

l Oct. 10: “The Im­pact of Me­te­oroids on the Moon,” a talk by Ti­mothy Stubbs of the NASA God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter, at the reg­u­lar meet­ing of the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Astronomers, Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. 7:30 p.m.

www.cap­i­ta­las­tronomers.org.

l Oct. 11: “The Real Alien Visi­tors to Earth,” a talk by as­tronomer Alan Gold­berg, at the

North­ern Vir­ginia As­tron­omy Club’s reg­u­lar meet­ing, 163 Re­search Hall, Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity, Fair­fax. 7 p.m.

www.no­vac.com.

l Oct. 17: Guided by Sean O’Brien, of the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum, and other lo­cal astronomers, ab­sorb the au­tum­nal night heav­ens at Sky Mead­ows State Park, near Paris, Va. Park­ing is $5. Ar­rive be­fore dark. 6 to 9 p.m. Park phone: 540-592-3556. tinyurl.com/q92u­dac.

l Oct. 17: “When Was Cre­ation?” is be­ing pre­sented at the Mont­gomery Col­lege Plan­e­tar­ium, Takoma Park, 7 p.m. ow.ly/JEJ6V.

l Oct. 17: “Ex­plor­ing the Sky” through tele­scopes, hosted by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Astronomers, at Rock Creek Park, near the Na­ture Cen­ter in the field

south of Mil­i­tary and Glover roads NW. 7:30 p.m.

www.cap­i­ta­las­tronomers.org.

l Oct. 18: “It’s a Small World, Af­ter All,” a talk by Michelle Thaller, of the NASA God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter. Small places in the uni­verse are im­por­tant to ex­plore, such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. David M. Brown Plan­e­tar­ium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Ar­ling­ton. Chil­dren/ se­niors: $3. Gen­eral: $5.

friend­soft­he­p­lan­e­tar­ium.org.

l Oct. 20: “Radar and Op­ti­cal Ob­ser­va­tions of Me­te­ors,” a talk by as­tronomer Robert Mitchell, at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. 9 p.m. Scan the night sky through tele­scopes af­ter­ward, weather per­mit­ting. www.as­tro.umd.edu/open­house.

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