Stargazing Tips for This Week
What will the first days of October bring to us? Read on to learn more about the celestial phenomena that are worth to look at on September 29 — October 4, 2020.
For about half an hour before dawn in September and October every year, observers in mid-northern latitudes can see the zodiacal light in the eastern sky. Zodiacal light is sunlight scattered by interplanetary particles concentrated in the plane of the solar system. It is best seen in areas free of urban light pollution. You can read more about zodiacal light in our article.
Look just above the eastern horizon for a broad wedge of faint light centered on the ecliptic, which runs through Venus and the bright star Regulus in Leo. Don’t confuse the zodiacal light with the Milky Way, which is positioned further to the southeast.
Bright lights in the night sky
Here’s a list of the brightest objects you can see in the sky this week — in decreasing order of brightness.
No surprise — the Moon is the brightest object in the nighttime sky, especially while near its full phase. The first Full Moon of October (there will be two of them this month!) will occur on October 1 at 5:05 pm EDT (or 21:05 GMT).
The next brightest object is Venus, which is shining at magnitude -4.1 in the eastern sky between 3:45 am and sunrise every morning.
Third up is Mars. It’s the very red and bright, eye-catching object in the southeastern sky during the evening. Last week Mars officially became brighter than Jupiter. Mars looks brighter when it’s closer to Earth and dimmer when it’s farther away. In early October, we’ll be almost as close to Mars as we ever get. Mars will then reach a maximum brightness of -2.6, and then it will quickly start to dim as we move away from the planet on our orbital racetrack. By October 27, Mars will already be dimmer than Jupiter.
Speaking of Jupiter — it’s the very bright, white-coloured, magnitude -2.3, object shining in the southwestern sky after sunset every night. Jupiter, too, is dimming a little every night as we move farther away from it this fall — but Jupiter’s brightness through the year doesn’t vary as much as Mars’ does.
The predawn sky this month has the brightest star in the entire night sky — Sirius, in Canis Major. Sirius shines at magnitude -1.45. It’s sharing the morning sky with Venus, although it is located much farther south.
The next brightest object is the orange-tinted star Arcturus. This magnitude -0.05 star will pop into view in the western sky after dusk.
Up next is the bright, blue-white star Vega! A long time ago Vega was chosen to anchor the magnitude scale and assigned a magnitude of 0.0. Since then, refinements in measurements have altered its value slightly to 0.03.
The bright yellow star Capella is next in line. This magnitude 0.08 star, barely dimmer than Vega, will catch your eye as it twinkles over the northeastern horizon after 10 pm local time.
Last up is yellow-tinted Saturn. It is easy to identify this year because it has been partnered with much brighter Jupiter all summer. Saturn, at magnitude 0.46, is actually 13.5 times dimmer than Jupiter.
You can easily find stars, constellations, and planets with the [Star Walk 2] app. Just tap the magnifier icon, 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.
These are our astronomical highlights for the week. Keep looking at the sky and happy stargazing!