Our Friendly Skies - October 2012

October 01, 2012|By CHRIS KOPKO/William Brish Planetarium and ANDY SMETZER/Tristate Astronomers
  • The All-Sky chart for October 2012
Tristate Astronomers

As the weather gets colder many of us will lament the passing of the long summer days, but not all is lost.  With shorter stretches of daylight comes more opportunity for the observation of dark, starlit skies.
A few bright stars remain from summer in the early evening sky, while some of our favorite fall and winter time stars also take their place earlier and earlier throughout the month.  We’ll begin by looking straight up at the Zenith, or the point that is directly overhead in the sky at your location.  Look to the west of this location, the direction in which the sun sets, and you will see a bright blue star high in the sky.  This star is Vega, which is part of Lyra the Harp, which appears to be a parallelogram shaped constellation, connected to Vega by a small triangle.  From here look to the left (south) of Vega and another bright star will appear to be sandwiched between two dimmer stars.  This bright star is Altair, and is part of the constellation, Aquila the Eagle.  Finally, turn completely around from here to face north east and you will see the bright star Capella, just making its way above the horizon.  Capella is part of the constellation Auriga, which may still be mostly below the horizon if you are observing early in the evening.
For a more detailed tour of the night sky check out Skylights, the monthly podcast tour of the night sky, downloadable at

On the evenings of Friday, Oct. 19, and Saturday, Oct. 20, the TriState Astronomers will have telescopes set up near the Antietam Battlefield Visitors Center in Sharpsburg for the public to observe the wonders of the night sky. There will also be laser guided tours of the night sky. It is a continuous event from sunset until 11 pm. The star party will be canceled in the event of cloudy skies. Contact for more info.
Evening Planets

SATURN and MERCURY will both be just above the southwest horizon at sunset at the beginning of October. Using a good pair of binoculars can help you to spot them both.
MARS will also be above the southwest horizon, but will be higher in the sky and won’t set until a couple of hours after the sun goes down.  Mars’ eastward motion in relation to the other stars in the sky will keep it setting about two hours after sunset for the rest of the month.
NEPTUNE & URANUS will both be high in the sky after sunset, but will require binoculars or a telescope to view as always.
JUPITER will rise later in the evening, at 10 p.m. at the beginning of the month and closer to 8 p.m. by month’s end. Jupiter will be found rising above the eastern horizon and will shine at about a magnitude of -2.5 or -2.6.  Jupiter is a wonderful target to train a telescope on to study the different colored bands of clouds, or to check out the Galilean Moons that are visible along with it that particular night!
Late Night/Morning Planets

VENUS will rise in the early morning hours very near in the sky to the star Regulus, which marks the heart of Leo the Lion.  Venus will be very bright in the sky, shining at a magnitude of -4.1.


On Oct. 1, sunrise is at 7:07 a.m. and sunset at 6:54 p.m., for 11 hours and 47 minutes of daylight.  By Oct. 31, sunrise isn’t until 7:38 a.m. with the sun setting earlier in the evening at 6:11 p.m. for 10 hours and 33 minutes of daylight - a 74-minute decrease from the beginning of the month.
On Oct. 16, the sun leaves Virgo the Maiden and enters the constellation Libra.  The change is caused by Earth’s revolution around the sun. The sun seems to line up with distant background stars from our viewpoint here on Earth, so the sky changes by seasons and months.
Last quarter moon is Oct. 8, new moon on Oct. 15, first quarter on Oct. 21 and the moon will be full on Oct. 29.


Two meteor showers will be upon us this month, with the Taurids and the Orionids both on the slate.  The Taurid meteors appear to originate from the direction of Taurus the Bull.  These meteors are slow moving and are generally small in number, maybe five or six an hour.  However, some of the Taurid meteors can be larger than most and can produce fireballs that streak across the sky. The Taurids can be seen throughout October.
The Orionid meteor shower on the other had appears to originate from the direction of Orion, and these meteors move quickly across the sky. The peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower will be during the weekend of Oct. 20 and generally will produce about 20 meteors per hour.

The William Brish Planetarium will run programs on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 7:00 PM unless otherwise noted.  For more information visit
The next meeting for the TriState Astronomers will be held at the William Brish Planetarium on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m.  All are welcome!  For more information, visit

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