below are notable astronomical events coming up for the month of
In October, Mercury begins the month in the evening sky, close to
20 degrees from the Sun. Unfortunately, almost none of that translates
to height above the Sun over the western horizon after sunset. Therefore
Mercury will be very difficult to see at that time, and indeed throughout
the rest of the month. In fact,
Mercury soon begins a plunge toward the glare of the Sun due to
its orbit being so small and its orbital speed so swift. By mid-month
on the 16th Mercury reaches inferior conjunction with the Sun, thereafter
rising in the morning sky before the Sun. At first Mercury is far
too deep in the glare of the Sun to see, but by about the last week
of October, Mercury will be progressively higher in the morning,
thus affording an opportunity to view it then.
Venus begins October rising only about 6 degrees west of the Sun,
and so will be difficult to spot in the morning sky all month long,
starting in the constellation Virgo. Venus will thereafter be hidden
ever more deeply in the Sun’s glare for the entire month,
coming to superior conjunction on the 25th of October. Venus will
be on the evening side of the Sun for many months after that, although
too close to the Sun to see through the end of this month. However,
Venus will henceforth be a beautiful “evening star”,
becoming progressively brighter and farther from the Sun starting
In October, Mars is about 4 degrees east of its rival star Antares,
as the name suggests, in the constellation Scorpius at the beginning
of the month. It is rather low (less than about 20 degrees) over
the WSW horizon about an hour after sunset at the beginning of the
month. However, while Antares of Scorpius descends into the solar
glare, Mars pulls away, losing ground only slowly while it traverses
Scorpius, Ophiuchus, and ends up in Sagittarius, just above the
lid of the Teapot asterism at the end of the month.
Jupiter starts October rising just before 3 a.m. in Cancer, somewhat
east of the Beehive Cluster M44. At about mid-month, Jupiter crosses
over into the constellation Leo and spends the rest of the month
treading that part of the sky. The waning crescent Moon bypasses
Jupiter on the 17th and 18th. By month’s end, Jupiter rises
at about 1:20 a.m.
In October, Saturn begins the month very low in the sky after sunset
in the constellation Libra, and Ceres around 1 degree away! However,
Ceres pulls steadily away from the much slower Saturn all month
long, while Saturn sinks ever deeper into sunset during that same
time span. If you have an extremely flat WSW horizon and clear viewing
conditions, Saturn and the very slim, young crescent Moon make a
nice pairing on the evening of the 25th. By the end of the month,
Saturn has sunk so deeply into the glare of the Sun that viewing
it with the naked eye in the evening will likely prove impossible
until spring of 2015.
In early October, Uranus rises just after sunset in the constellation
Pisces, and comes to opposition on the 7th of the month. Therefore,
Uranus is visible virtually all night long for pretty much all of
the month. Uranus can be viewed with optical aid, such as binoculars
or a telescope using a star chart as a guide. With 75x or greater,
one can usually resolve a sky-blue disk for Uranus real-time through
the eyepiece, under good viewing conditions.
Neptune is in the constellation Aquarius in the month of October,
moderately high in the SE sky after sunset, and visible with the
right optical aid for most of the hours of darkness. The nearly
Full Moon makes its closest approach to Neptune for the month on
the evening of the 5th, about 8 degrees NE of the distant blue giant.
By the end of the month, Neptune is rather high in the southern
sky at an hour after sunset.
Ceres starts in the constellation
Libra, less than 1 degree NW of Saturn at the beginning of October.
Ceres outstrips Saturn all month long, moving somewhat slower than
Mars, but far faster than Saturn as it loses distance from the glare
of the Sun after sunset. On the evening of the 25th of the month,
the young crescent Moon passes very close to the largest asteroid,
probably about 3 degrees, and at month’s end, Ceres sets at
a little after 7:30 p.m. Optical aid will be needed to spot the
asteroid / dwarf planet.
In October, Pluto is in
the constellation Sagittarius, slightly past meridian at about an
hour after sunset, only a couple of degrees away from the First
Quarter Moon on the first of the month. The Moon comes around again
for another visit on the 28th of the month and by Halloween it sets
at around 10:15 p.m. Optical aid will be even more desperately needed
to view Pluto than was so for Ceres! A minimum of an 8 or 10 inch
aperture telescope and a pristine night of viewing conditions is
required for live viewing.
Solar Eclipse on the Afternoon of October 23!
In the mid-afternoon
on Thursday, October 23, Farmington and other Four Corners’
residents will be able to view a partial solar eclipse, weather
permitting, of course! In a partial solar eclipse, the Sun is not
completely covered by the disk of the Moon, but part of the lunar
disk passes across the face of our star. The leading edge of the
Moon’s disk will start to obscure the solar disk at 3:22 p.m.
MDT. From there, ever more of the Moon’s silhouette will cover
the Sun until it reaches maximum at 4:38 p.m. After that point in
the eclipse, the Moon’s disk will slowly uncover that of the
Sun’s until 5:46 p.m. At this time, the eclipse will end,
since the Moon will no longer cover any part of the Sun.
During the eclipse, the
Sun will not be safe to view directly without some kind of protection
for your eyes. NEVER stare directly at the Sun during an eclipse
without a safe solar filter. Sunglasses, for instance, are NOT enough
protection. Welder’s glass of at least 14-grade or higher
are considered safe enough, as are of course, properly-filtered
solar telescopes. One can also use pinhole projection, with a stick-pin
hole through a piece of rigid material, such as cardboard. When
using this method, you let the Sun shine against your cardboard
piece, with the sunlight shining through the small hole onto a light-colored
surface. Usually when doing this, you would see a miniature replica
of the Sun’s disk as a tiny little dot or circle of light.
However, during a solar eclipse, you will see a miniature replica
of the disk of the Sun being covered by a silhouette of the Moon’s
disk! Again, you do NOT look straight at the Sun through the hole,
but rather let the Sun’s light fall THROUGH the hole onto
a light surface. Even spaces between the leaves on trees will show
multiple miniature projections of the Sun’s disk being covered
by the Moon!
At San Juan College,
the Planetarium will offer free, telescopically-filtered observing
of this eclipse event from 3:15 p.m. until 5:45 p.m., weather permitting.
The eclipse viewing will be held on the west-facing hill right outside
the west classroom complex, behind the educational services / clock
tower building. The observing site will be best accessed from parking
lot F. In the event of cloudy, or otherwise inclement weather, the
observing session will have to be cancelled.
For more information,
please call David Mayeux at 505-566-3361.
Showers - http://amsmeteors.org/showers.html
Comets - http://cometography.com/current_comets.html
events - http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights