October skies offer glittering views of planets, including Venus

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Mercury puts in a brief appearance in the middle of the month but barely makes it to three or four degrees above the horizon. Shining at magnitude -0.1 it will be hard to pick out of the glow of twilight, even with binoculars. Saturn is lost in the glow of twilight as it heads for conjunction with the sun on the 25th.

Mars will be found about 12 degrees above the horizon and although dimmer (magnitude +1.2), it will be easier to find than Mercury. Because of its eastward motion in the sky it will continue to set about two hours after sunset for the rest of the year. The bright red star Antares (which means the rival of Mars) will be only 3.5 degrees below Mars on the 20th. This will be a good opportunity to contrast the colors of these two objects.

The evening planetary star will be Jupiter which rises around 10 p.m. at the beginning of the month and by 8 p.m. at month's end. Brightening from magnitude -2.5 to -2.7 the giant planet will be high in the southeastern sky and well placed for telescopic viewing by midnight.

Venus continues to outshine everything in the sky in the early morning hours. Blazing away at magnitude -4.0 it rises about three hours before the sun for most of the month. From the 1st through the 7th Venus will be within five degrees of the bright star Regulus in Leo "the lion." This is close enough so that both will be in the same field of view using binoculars. On the 3rd Venus and Regulus will be separated by a scant 0.2 degrees! This is their closest approach since 1959 and should be quite a sight through a pair of binoculars or small telescope. In 1959 Venus actually occulted (passed in front of) Regulus.

The moon will be last quarter on the 8th, new on the 15th, first quarter on the 21st and full on the 29th. Looking east at about 11 p.m. on the 5th, the waning gibbous moon will be found just below and to the left of the giant planet Jupiter. About one hour before sunrise on the 12th, the waning crescent moon will be just to the right of the brilliant planet Venus.

On the 16th through the 18th we have a triple header involving the moon and two planets. On the 16th the barely visible crescent moon will be just barely above the horizon and keeping company with Mercury which will be slightly above and to the left of the moon. On the 17th the crescent moon will split the difference as it will be found about halfway between Mercury and Mars. On the 18th the crescent moon will above and to the left of Mars and the giant star Antares in Scorpio. The best time to see these events will be about 30 minutes after sunset. A pair of good binoculars will help you find these objects, particularly Mercury.