Welcome to our Night Sky Guide for October 2017!
Are you confused about constellations or confounded by conjunctions? Or perhaps just puzzled trying to pinpoint the position of the planets?
No problem! Here’s this month’s guide to “what’s up” in the night sky.
Please note that while this night sky guide is written for southern hemisphere amateur astronomers, much of the content is still relevant for those in the northern hemisphere – the precise time and location in the sky may vary to those noted, though.
- 3rd – Occultation of Neptune by The Moon
- 6th – Venus and Mars very close in the morning
- 20th – Neptune at opposition
- 21st – Orionid meteor shower maximum activity
Mercury begins the month in close proximity to the Sun, on its way to superior conjunction on the 9th. For your best chance to spot the tiny planet, wait until the end of the month, where it will be visible in the early evening sky, close to the western horizon**
Venus spends this month shining brightly in the eastern morning sky a little before sunrise. Probably the best day to observe the “morning star” will be on the 6th, when it will be joined by the red planet, Mars, which will be less than one degree away. The morning of the 18th is also of note, as the two planets will be joined by a slender, crescent Moon. **
Mars can be found escorting the much brighter planet, Venus, through the pre-dawn sky this month. As with the brighter planet, the best days to observe Mars will be between the 5th and 7th as the planets reach their minimum angular separation, or on the 18th, when the crescent Moon joins the pair.
Jupiter only makes a brief appearance for the first part of this month, where it can be found on the western horizon after sunset. For the majority of October, the planet is moving towards its conjunction with the Sun on the 27th, and so will not be visible. It reappears in the morning sky in mid-November. **
Saturn is still relatively well-placed for observations this month. It can be found in the western evening sky, where it will set at around 11 pm. On the 24th, the ringed planet will be joined by a slender, crescent Moon, making for a pleasant sight.
Uranus reaches opposition on the 20th of this month, and so is visible for the entire night. Through a telescope using moderate magnification, the planet will appear as a small, featureless, blue-green disc, and will be located almost directly overhead around midnight.
Neptune reaches its highest point in the sky at around 9 pm this month, after reaching opposition in September. It is still well-placed for observation, with the best night being the 3rd, when the waning, gibbous Moon will pass closely by the planet. For those in Tasmania and southern Victoria, the event will actually be an occultation.
** Observations close to the Sun should not be attempted by inexperienced observers! Instant and permanent blindness can occur as a result of small errors. For increased safety, the Sun should be obscured by a structure.
* The best time for viewing the Milky Way, Nebulae, Galaxies, and other faint objects is around this date
- 3rd – Moon and Neptune (mid evening)
- 5th – Venus and Mars (late evening)
- 7th – Moon and Uranus (very early morning)
- 15th – Moon and Regulus (evening)
- 17th – Moon and Mars (evening)
- 18th – Moon and Venus (early morning)
- 24th – Moon and Saturn (evening)
- 31st – Moon and Neptune (morning)
- 3rd, 1200 UTC – Neptune occulted by the Moon. Visible from Tasmania, New Zealand and Polynesia.
- 9th, 1900 UTC – Aldebaran occulted by the Moon. Visible from NE Asia, Alaska and SW Canada.
- 15th, 1100 UTC – Regulus occulted by the Moon. Visible from the United States and West Africa.
- 30th, 2000 UTC – Neptune occulted by the Moon. Visible from Antarctica and Southern Africa.
The Orionid meteor shower is one of the most-consistently impressive each year. They are caused by the Earth orbiting through debris that has been left by Halley’s comet, which burns up as it enters our atmosphere.
Radiating out from the constellation of Orion, numerous, bright meteors may be seen on any given night during October, however this year, peak activity is expected for a couple of nights either side of the 21st of the month.
This coincides with the particularly dark skies experienced around the New Moon, ensuring great viewing conditions for this year’ shower – assuming you can escape light pollution and clouds of course!