A nice New Moon helps Meteor Watchers, Saturn in the Southwest, Uranus is Closest, and Zodiacal Light leads Dawn!
The Moon and Planets
Between 5 am local time and dawn on Tuesday morning, the old crescent moon will be visible sitting about one finger width to the left of dim reddish Mars. Bright Venus will be a palm’s width below the two objects. Hours later, observers in central Asia will see the moon’s orbital motion carry it within two degrees of Venus.
On Wednesday morning, the very slim crescent of the old moon will appear about a palm’s width to the lower left of Venus, and just above the double star Porrima. Try looking after moonrise, about 6:10 am local time.
The moon will pass the sun on Thursday afternoon, producing the New Moon — invisible from view and giving us coveted dark night skies worldwide on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday evening, look low in the west after sunset for the slim crescent of the young moon. It’ll still be a pretty sight throughout the weekend as it climbs higher and shifts eastwards.
Saturn is the medium bright and yellowish object partway up the southwestern sky as the evening darkens. It sets in the west about 9:30 pm local time. We’ve only got another few weeks before it begins to sink into the twilight, so enjoy it now. On these moonless nights, use your binoculars to enjoy the sights of the Milky Way rising from the southern horizon just to the left of Saturn. And don’t forget to explore Cygnus overhead. I covered that constellation’s best sights here.
Blue-green Uranus reaches opposition and peak brightness on Thursday, when the Earth moves directly between it and the sun, making us closest to it for the year. It is situated between the two chains of stars that form Pisces (the Fishes). It’s about halfway up the southeastern sky at dusk and is observable for the rest of the night in binoculars under a dark sky (and telescopes the rest of the time) as it crosses the sky. To help guide you, there’s a medium-bright star called Omicron Piscium a generous finger’s width below Uranus. Because it is so far away (20 times farther from the sun than we are), viewing the planet on any evening for a week or two on either side of opposition is nearly as good.
Tiny blue Neptune is located in the southern evening sky about a finger’s width below the medium-bright star Hydor in Aquarius (the Water-Bearer). It is observable from full darkness until midnight, but it is too faint to be seen without a telescope.
This week, extremely bright Venus continues to drop daily in the eastern pre-dawn sky as it swings sunwards. Look for planet after it rises about 5:45 am local time. Much dimmer and reddish tinted Mars sits about a palm’s width above Venus. Mars rises about 5 am, but disappears from sight long before much brighter Venus. I’ll post sky charts for the visible planets here.
Orionid Meteor Shower
The excellent Orionid Meteor Shower is underway until November 14 and is observable world-wide. It peaks after midnight on Saturday, October 21 (i.e., Sunday morning), when the sky overhead is moving directly into the densest region of the particle field, which is derived from material left by repeated past passages of Comet Halley. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but will be Orionids if they are moving in a direction away from a location (the radiant) above the bright red star Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion. Although not too prolific, Orionids are known for being bright and fast-moving.
Luckily this year, the Moon is new around the peak evenings, leaving us a nice dark sky. To see the most meteors, find a wide-open dark location, preferably away from light polluted skies, and just look up. Binoculars and telescopes are not useful. If the peak night is cloudy, a day or two on either side is almost as good. Happy hunting!
During the two weeks starting just before the new moon on October 19, the nearly vertical morning ecliptic favors the appearance of zodiacal light in the eastern sky for about half an hour before dawn. Look for a broad wedge of brightening centred on the ecliptic, near Venus and Mars. It’s reflected sunlight from interplanetary particles that are concentrated in the plane of the solar system.
Stargazing News for this week (from October 15th, 2017) by Chris Vaughan.