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