The night sky in October 2016

posted 30 Sep 2016, 07:14 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Sep 2016, 07:34 ]
by Anne Holt

Sunset:   1st   18.48,       31st   16.38

Full Moon  16th,     New Moon 1st and 30th.

Highlights

One major meteor shower, though it will be advesely affected by the presence of the gibbous moon.

On the night of 18th/19th the Moon will pass through the Hyades - the V shaped asterism in Taurus - several naked eye stars will be occulted.

There are some nice early evening passes of the ISS in the first half of the month - find them on www.heavens-above.com, or for smartphone download ISS Detector for Android or ISS Spotter for iPhone.

Astronomical darkness, at the start of the month, begins shortly before 9pm,  and soon after 6.30 by month end.

And, in the early hours of 30th, we can go back to using Greenwich Mean Time - midnight will be at 00.00 hrs, where it belongs.


Constellations

The Summer Triangle, made up of Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila, is losing its dominance in the night sky.  It is still visible during the first part of October high in the south west but by the end of the month all three constellations will have set by 4am. It's place in the southern sky is being taken by the Great Square of Pegasus, autumn's signature constellation.

The beautiful star cluster the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters) followed by the rest of Taurus, will be visible by 11pm in early October and by 8pm (now back to GMT) at month end.

By the end of October Orion will be easily visible by midnight, with Sirius just above the eastern horizon at this time.

Perseus and Andromeda are still high in the sky for most of the night, making it a good time to look for M31, the Andromeda galaxy.   If you are at a very dark sky site, it should be visible to the naked eye, especially when using averted vision.

Cassiopeia is now high in the sky for most of the night, so the Plough, on the opposite side of the North Celestial Pole, is low in the north.

Planets

A slight improvement on September's positions, but still not ideal for observing naked eye planets.

Mercury: may be visible in the first half of October,  on 1st it rises at 05.22 just under 2 hours before the Sun.  On 11th it is 0.8 degrees North of Jupiter, just before dawn. Reaches superior conjunction on 27th and is not visible during the second half of the month.

Venus:  in Ophiuchus,  mag -3.9. At the start of October it sets about an hour after the Sun, but is still very low in the sky because of the low angle of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun around the Earth, on which most of the planets lie) -
 However, because it is so bright, it may be visible in the twilight.  On 3rd it is 5 degrees South of the crescent Moon. On 28th it passes between Antares and Saturn and on 30th is 3 degrees South of the planet.

Mars:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.1. Again, very low in the evening sky, setting at around 10pm in early October and just before 9 at the end, though, because of it's movement Eastward against the background stars, there isn't much actual change - the time difference is because of the clocks going back.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag 1.5. At the start of October is very low in the Eastern pre dawn sky, rising just half an hour before the sun.  By the end it will rise around 4.30 and be more easily visible before the sky begins to brighten.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.5. Visible in early October, very low in the South West soon after sunset.  By the end of the month it sets about 90 minutes after the sun.

As last month the distant ice giants are much better placed for observation than the naked eye planets.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.7. Reaches opposition on 15th and is visible throughout the night this month, it is reasonably high in the sky an hour or so either side of midnight. On 16th it is 3 degrees North of the full Moon. It is easily seen in binoculars - if you know wherre to look - but a telescope is needed to show the planet's disc and blue green colour.

Neptune:  in Aquarius,  mag 7.8. Still quite well placed, especially during the first half of October. By the end it sets around 1am and is best seen before midnight. Much too faint to be seen with the naked eye, but could be visible through good binoculars from a dark sky site.  Through a telescope it's blue colour can be seen.

For exact positions of these two, see
This site can also be used if you want to try to spot dwarf planet Ceres, which is at opposition, in Cetus, on 21st and is at mag 7.8.
Another useful site for locating faint objects is https://in-the-sky.org
This one gives co-ordinates rather than position charts.

Meteors

One major shower in October.

Orionids Active from early October until early November, peak early morning of 21st, ZHR 20.  Bright, fast moving meteors, some leaving trails.  This shower could include some fireballs.  The shower is caused when the Earth passes through a stream of dust left by Halley's Comet. Best seen between midnight and dawn but this year the gibbous moon will interfere.

Several minor showers in October - some more minor than others.

Camelopardids Peak 5th/6th, ZHR 1.  Occasionally puts on a much better show but often the shower isn't seen at all.

Draconids Peak 8th/9th, ZHR 2. This shower often includes many more meteors, but most are so faint that they can only be detected using radar.  It is unusual in that it is best seen before midnight,  when the radiant is high in the sky.  It is caused by dust particles from Comet Giacobini-Zinner.

Delta Aquarids Active, though again not very, mid September to mid October. Peak 11th, ZHR 2.  Best seen in the early hours.

Southern Taurids. Sept 10th to Nov 20th.  Peak October 10th, ZHR 5. Bright, slow moving meteors, could be some fireballs.  This shower is best seen around midnight. It is associated with the Northern Taurids, which start in late October but do not peak until November.  It's thought that thousands of years ago they were a single shower, but it has been split into 2 streams by the gravitational influence of Jupiter. They are associated with a large, long defunct comet, which broke up over 20,000 years ago, one of the fragments becoming Comet Encke.

Epsilon Geminids. Peak 18th/19th,  ZHR  3. Fast moving meteors.  Parent comet not known for sure, probably Nishikawa-Takamizawa-Tago.

Leonids Minorids. Peak 22nd/23rd, ZHR 2. Fast moving meteors, dust particles from Comet C/1739K1.

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