Welcome to the October night sky. We are now at the time of the year when the nights last longer than the days in the northern hemisphere. The further north you go, the more darkness begins to rule and, in the Arctic regions, the Sun will not rise now for many months.
October is short on meteor showers with the best being the Draconid meteors after sunset between October 7 and 9, and the Orionids on October 21.
The Orionid meteors are dust left over from the tail of Haley’s Comet. Also on the 21st the minor planet or asteroid called Ceres comes to opposition, so it will be at its closest point to the Earth at approximately 175 million miles away.
This object is at the moment being orbited by the NASA Dawn probe. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter at about 1,000 kilometres across, but it is too faint to be seen without a pair of binoculars. At the moment, it is in the constellation of Cetus and it will be just below the full Moon of October.
The mining of asteroids will be happening in the coming decades with the closest objects to Earth being studied first. These are called NEOs or Near Earth Objects. They would be a plentiful source of precious metals that are rare on Earth.
As these lumps of rock could possibly impact us, it would be beneficial to understand them well so that we could change their orbits to make them easier to mine and safer for the Earth.
The bright planet Venus is now low in the south-east during the evenings and the thin crescent Moon will be close to Venus on October 3. This bright planet is moving eastwards in October and will be close to the ringed planet Saturn by the last few days of the month.
The quarter Moon will be close to Saturn on the night of October 6, and to the red planet Mars on the night of the 8th in the constellation of Sagittarius.
The moon is new on October 1, first quarter on the 9th, full on the 16th, last quarter on the 22th and new again on October 30.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the October Sky Map click on the pdf link below