Culture

The Sky Above You – October 2020

By Duncan Lunan

The Moon will be Full on October 1st and October 31st  (a ‘Blue Moon’, i.e. the second Full Moon this month), and it will be New on October 16th

The planet Mercury is too near the Sun to be visible in October, though at greatest eastern elongation from it on October 1st.   Mercury is at inferior conjunction on this side of the Sun on October 25th – but don’t try to see it!

Venus remains brilliant in the morning sky, rising about 3.30 a.m., more than three hours before the Sun, and passing close to Regulus in Leo on October 3rd.  The Moon is near Venus on 14th October.   On 15th October Europe’s BepiColombo spacecraft will make the first of two Venus flybys on its way to Mercury.   In very exciting news on September 14th, British researchers announced strong evidence for microbial life in the mid-level of the Venus cloud layer, where temperatures and pressures are similar to those at Earth’s surface.   The possibility has been discussed since the mid-1960s, and has been arousing interest in recent discussions about future NASA missions, but the NASA Director has said that those missions are now not just possible but a priority. 

Mars is in Pisces, at its nearest to us on October 6th  (the closest for the next 15 years)  and at opposition  (due south at midnight GMT, and opposite to the Sun)  on October 13th.   Mars is visible all night in October, brighter than Jupiter now, with the Moon nearby on the nights of 2nd and 3rd October, and again on the 29th.

Jupiter in Sagittarius sets at 10.30 p.m. in October, and the Moon is near Jupiter on October 22nd.

Saturn remains close to Jupiter, to the left, and the Moon is near Saturn on October 23rd.

Uranus is in Aries, at opposition at midnight on October 31st, six days after the clocks go back.  Uranus is visible all night in October but will be harder to find at opposition because the Moon will be nearby.   

Neptune in Aquarius sets around 4 a.m. in October.  Throughout this quarter Neptune is moving retrograde  (east to west)  after being passed by the Earth at opposition in mid-September. 

Meteors from the Taurid shower can be seen from late October to early December.  The Orionid meteors from Halley’s Comet peak on the night of 21-22nd October, and are best seen after 1 a.m. BST, as the Earth turns to face the incoming stream of dust along the comet’s orbit.   The Orionids typically produce 10-20 meteors per hour, but there were bursts of activity in 2006 to 2009, so they’re worth keeping an eye on.   

Duncan Lunan’s latest book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers;  details of that and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.

Categories: Culture, Science

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