Backyard Stargazer for Oct. 2017
By Francis Parnell
Along with cooler nights, October brings a number of pairings of planets and stars with the Moon. There’s also an exceptionally close conjunction of Venus and Mars.
At dawn on the 5th, Venus and Mars are only 1/4-degree apart in twilight – that’s one-half the Moon’s diameter! Binoculars will help separate sparkling white Venus from dimmer, red Mars and an even dimmer background star in LEO, the Lion. Venus and Mars haven’t been this close since 1995.
One hour before sunrise on the 17th, a very thin waning crescent Moon is 6-degrees above Venus and 2-degrees left, or lower left, of dim, red Mars.
On Thursday the 19th, Uranus is at Opposition (directly opposite the Sun in our night sky) at 1,757,084,752 miles (2.6 light-hours) from Earth. With a small telescope and a good star chart showing the path of Uranus, you should be able to see the small blue-green disc of the seventh planet from the Sun. Uranus can be found among the stars of PISCES, the Fishes. The websites of Sky & Telescope or Astronomy magazines may have a star chart that you can print out. Uranus is just bright enough that under dark skies you can spot it without optical aid.
For early risers, the annual Orionid Meteor shower peaks before dawn on the 21st under moonless conditions. Under dark skies, expect to see up to 20 meteors per hour. At 4 a.m. EDT, the constellation of ORION is high in the south-southeast, but scan the sky in all directions. You never know where you’ll see a blazing streak of light!
At dusk on the 23rd, Saturn is about 6-degrees left of the waxing crescent Moon in the southwestern sky. On the 24th, a slightly fatter crescent Moon is approximately 6-degrees to the upper left of Saturn.
Enjoy the early fall nights and “Keep looking up!”
Francis Parnell of Darlington has been an amateur astronomer for over 46 years, and was on the staff and helped out at the Francis Marion University Observatory from 1982 until 2006 by showing visitors “what’s out there.” With the help of a friend, Mr. Ernest Lowry, he built his own telescope in 1986. And, because of light pollution, for the last 31 years he has been advocating for the advantages of using fully-shielded lighting at night.