Astronomy events for October 2011

SkyCaramba weekly astronomy blog for the week ending October 8, 2011

Jupiter will be at opposition this month. That’s when a planet is up all night and is closest to Earth. It’s great for viewing because you can see it in the evening or morning and it’ll look biggest in your telescope at this time. The planet will be 593 million kilometers or 369 million miles away on the 29th

There aren’t many other bright objects in the same region of the sky as Jupiter right now. That helps you identify it. If you take a look with binoculars or a telescope, you’ll immediately notice a few little dots next to it. Watch from night to night and you’ll see them in different places. Those are the moons Galileo saw. 

The view with a telescope, especially one that gives you a large image, will reveal cloud bands around Jupiter. There’s also a feature called the Great Red Spot crossing the surface every ten hours. The spot is really tan but it appeared bright red in 1878, according to Sky and Telescope. Using a colored filter can make the cloud band and spot stand out more. 

Mars is a morning object starting October in the Beehive Cluster of Cancer. Find the Red Planet below Gemini and take a look in binoculars for a spectacle. You can’t wait too long though. In just a few mornings, Mars will be on its way out of Cancer. A waning crescent moon passes the planet on the 21st and 22nd when it’s just inside the boundary for Leo. Mars won’t make it all the way to Regulus, the heart of Leo, this month but it will be close by the 31st

Saturn may be visible in the dawn sky for some viewers by the end of the month. A better bet is Venus at dusk with Mercury nearby. Those at middle and high northern latitudes won’t get a great show from the two innermost planets though. Southern hemisphere views are best. The moon will pass them on the 28th. Then the two will be just two degrees apart on November 1. 

Mercury is at aphelion on the 22nd. That’s when it’s farthest from the sun. That little barren world will be 70 million kilometers or 43 million miles from our star. 

Northern hemisphere sky watchers should already be noticing how much starrier cold nights seem. One reason is that there’s less moisture in the air to make the view hazy. Another reason, according to, is there are actually fewer stars in the winter sky. Ironic? Certainly. EarthSky says in the summer, we’re looking toward the Milky Way’s center. There are more stars there but there’s also more galactic dust to obscure them. So, they’re harder to see with the naked eye. 

Viewing should be good for the Draconid meteors peaking around the 8th and the Orionids peaking around the 21st. The parent comet for the Draconids is close to the sun in February. That means Earth has a chance at going through more comet dust. 

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