This week comes with new prominent astronomical events. The Moon will leave the evening scene as it passes last quarter. Meanwhile, Mars appears at its largest, the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn persist in the early evening, and Venus gleams in the predawn sky. Keep an eye out for meteors, too! Read our article and learn more about these and other noteworthy astronomical events of October 6–11, 2020.
The waning Moon
Now that it has passed its full phase, the Moon will be waning and rising later every night — leaving early evening skies moonless and darker for skywatchers all over the world. On Tuesday night, the Moon will land to the left of the bright orange star Aldebaran, the fiery eye of Taurus. On Wednesday night, the Moon will shift to sit above the medium-bright star named Zeta (ζ) Tauri marking the tip of the southerly horn of the Bull. The famous Crab Nebula supernova remnant, also known as Messier 1, will be located about midway between the Moon and that star.
On Thursday and Friday, the Moon will traverse Gemini. When it reaches its last quarter phase at 0:39 GMT on Saturday, October 10, the Moon will rise around midnight and then remain visible in the southern sky all morning. The week of moonless evening skies that follows last quarter is the best one for observing October’s deep-sky targets. When the waning crescent Moon rises at about 1 a.m. local time on Sunday, October 11, it will be positioned above the large open star cluster known as the Beehive Cluster or Messier 44, in Cancer.
Mars is close to the Earth
On Monday night, and into Tuesday morning, Mars was very close to the Earth. Next time it will be this close only in 2035. That means that virtually any size of a telescope can show you Mars’ ruddy disk — and perhaps some surface markings! Take advantage of every clear night this week to see Mars at its largest. The next week Mars will reach opposition and appear at its brightest — follow our news and you won’t miss this spectacular event.
This week, the very bright, reddish-tinted Mars will be rising in the east before 7:30 p.m. in your local time zone. It will reach more than a third of the way up the southeastern sky by late evening, then it will climb to slightly more than half-way up the southern sky by 2 a.m. local time, and set in the west after sunrise. The Red Planet shines among the stars of the constellation Pisces.
See the shining planets
Not long after 7 p.m. local time, very bright, white Jupiter will pop into view in the lower part of the southern sky. A short time after that, dimmer, yellowish Saturn will appear nearby — sitting to Jupiter’s left.
After 8 p.m. local time worldwide, Mars and the ice giant planets Uranus and Neptune will be above the horizon, too. This week’s moonless evening sky will be ideal for viewing them. Blue-green Uranus will cross the sky all night among the stars of southern Aries. Neptune, which rises in the late afternoon, is located among the stars of northeastern Aquarius, to the left of the medium-bright star Phi (φ) Aquarii.
Venus has been gleaming in the eastern pre-dawn sky for some time now. It will rise at about 4 a.m. local time this week, and then remain visible in the eastern sky until sunrise. Viewed in a backyard telescope, Venus will show a gibbous, half-illuminated shape. This week, the planet will be passing through Leo — descending below Leo’s bright, white star Regulus.
Draconids Meteor Shower Peaks
The Draconids Meteor Shower, which runs between October 6 and 10 every year, will peak overnight on Wednesday, October 7. The best time to watch for Draconids will be after dusk when the shower’s radiant in the constellation Draco will be sitting high in the northern sky. Learn more about this and other October’s meteor showers in our upcoming article!
The stargazing guide Star Walk 2 will help you to find stars, constellations, planets, and other space objects in the sky. Just type the name of the object in the search field, select it in the list, and you’ll see the object’s location in the sky above you.
Wishing you clear skies and happy stargazing!
Adapted from: Chris Vaughan