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Sky Notes

October 2014

During all of the month except the last day, the Sun is passing through the constellation of Virgo. This constellation is the second largest in the entire sky – the largest being Hydra (the swamp snake). On October 31st around 12h, it passes into the constellation of Libra.

The Moon

The Moon is at apogee, its furthest from the earth, on the 18th at 05h, and at perigee, its nearest to the earth at 09h on the 6th.

The First Quarter Moon occurs on the 1st at 19h33 in Sagittarius. This is one of the low FQ moons, despite the moon being 4° north of the ecliptic. There is another FQ moon on 31st at 02h49 in western Capricornus.

The Full Moon at 10h51 on the 8th is often called the Hunter’s Moon, named after Herne the Hunter, who leads the Yell Hounds across the early winter sky, and whose yelpings can be heard in the skeins of wild geese migrating at this time. Alternative ideas have been put forward for the origin of the name given to this Full Moon; one idea is that as the moon is now higher in the sky when full, and so gives more light for poachers to stalk their prey at night. Another, is that when the moon is high in the south at midnight, the constellation of Orion the Hunter is completely clear of the SE horizon for the first time since last winter. Look for the Hunter’s Moon this year in Pisces.

Over the Pacific Ocean a total eclipse of the moon takes place, all of which can be seen from western USA, Alaska, western Canada, New Zealand, NE, eastern Australia, much of Japan and NE Asia. None of this eclipse is visible from the UK.

Last Quarter Moon is on the 15th at 19h13 in south-eastern Gemini beneath Castor and Polliux.

October’s New Moon takes place on the 23rd at 21h57 in eastern Virgo. When the moon sets, it is just 3° to the west of the sun. At the time of new moon, a partial solar eclipse takes place, which would be visible from the UK; but unfortunately for us, the sun is below the horizon. However, all of the USA and most of Canada except for the extreme NE, get to see a reasonable partial eclipse. The greatest eclipse is visible from Prince of Wales Island in the Franklin district of the Canadian NW Territories.

You may observe the morning cone of the zodiacal light during the first to the seventh and again from the 23rd to the 31st. of the month. Look for its ethereal glow in the morning sky. Earthshine may be seen illuminating the night hemisphere of the waxing crescent moon from the 24th to the 30th, and the waning crescent from the 17th to the 23rd and is a most beautiful sight.

The Planets

During the first half of the month, Mercury remains invisible in the evening sky. However on the 16th the planet lies between the earth and the sun and inferior conjunction takes place; thereafter it emerges rapidly into the morning sky for its greatest elongation west of the sun on November 1st. Look for Mercury during the last ten days of the month, when at around 06h00 it may be seen shining as a bright star-like object above the ESE horizon, more than five degrees above it, as morning twilight begins. On the 22nd at 06h00 the very thin waning crescent moon may be spotted at an elevation of 8° in the ESE sky, and if you pan down to the lower left of the moon, some 7°, you might glimpse Mercury just 3° above the horizon. This late October morning apparition of the Sun’s innermost planet is the best of the year.

Although Venus rises an hour before the Sun on October 1st, and may be glimpsed as a pretty ‘jewel’ low down in the SSE in the brightening morning twilight, it becomes increasingly difficult to observe as the month progresses. The planet is at superior conjunction with the sun, passing just 1° above it on the 25th. Thereafter it moves into the evening sky as it heads towards its excellent apparition as the ‘evening star’ Hesperis in the early spring of 2015.  Throughout the latter part of October and most of November, this year, it will be difficult to locate in the bright evening twilight close to the horizon.

The direct motion of Mars takes the planet eastwards through Ophiuchus into Sagittarius during this month, and by the end of October, its magnitude is almost +1. This means that it is slightly dimmer than the star Altair (alpha Aquillae), which is higher in the sky in the south. Mars itself may be located within 10° of the SW horizon when evening twilight fades at around 18h00. During October, as the month begins, the planet sets two hours after the sun but because Mars gains greater altitude as the month progresses, it sets almost three hours after the sun by Hallowe’en. The waxing crescent moon is in conjunction with Mars on the 28th, when at 18h00 it lies 6° above the red planet, which in turn is 6° above the SW horizon.

Jupiter, on the Cancer / Leo border, rises at 01h00 at the start of the month, and just after 23h00 on the 31st. During the period it is above the horizon, it shines steadily and brightly, dominating the eastern quadrant of the sky during the early hours of the morning. The broad waning crescent moon and Jupiter produce a delightful spectacle on the 18th, when at 02h00 as they are rising in the eastern sky, they lie 5° apart. The star lower in the sky to their left is Regulus, brightest star in Leo. The Galilean satellites look splendid, even through binoculars, which must be firmly fixed and well focused.

Saturn becomes increasingly more difficult to locate in evening twilight, and by the middle of the month sets at around 18h00. To glimpse the ringed planet, look low down in the SW sky and if you use binoculars on the 25th, scanning the horizon in that direction at 17h00, you may see Saturn and the two day old waxing crescent moon almost touching as the ringed planet emerges from behind the moon, an occultation of the planet having just taken place. For those wishing to observe the occultation of Saturn, it is necessary to use a telescope because it happens in a daylight sky. Saturn disappears behind the dark limb of the moon at almost 16h00 UT as seen from Scarborough and much of the north of England, when the moon and Saturn are at an altitude of 10.5° above the horizon in the SW. The actual azimuth position of Saturn is 221° (Azimuth is measured in degrees along the horizon from the north point, through east, south, west and back to north again.

On the 7th at 20h00,  Uranus is opposite the sun in the sky (opposition). At this time it is at its nearest to the earth and crosses the south meridian at midnight. The planet is theoretically visible to the naked eye, but only as a very faint ‘star’, only readily seen in a very dark sky. This planet, discovered by William Herschel on the 13th March 1781, lies 3° to the south of delta Piscium at a distance a little less than delta is from its neighbouring star epsilon Piscium, which lies to the east.

Neptune is best seen during the late evening when at 21h30 it is at an altitude of 27° in the south. The below naked eye visibility planet is located some 4° to the south east of the fourth magnitude star Ancha (theta Aquarii). First locate the fifth magnitude star sigma Aquarii, and from that star, Neptune will be found one moon width to its upper right back in the direction of Ancha. A telescope with adequate magnification is necessary to see this remote world as a tiny bluish grey disc.

Some more remnants of Halley’s comet may be seen in the early hours from the 21st to 24th, when the earth encounters the Orionid stream. Up to 25 shooting stars an hour are expected. These meteors are fast moving and often leave persistent trains. The biggest number of Orionids will be visible just before dawn, when the constellation of Orion is high in the south. The radiant, or point of origin of the shooting stars is some 10° above Betelgeuse, the star which marks the right shoulder of the Giant Hunter. Unfortunately, this year is unfavourable due to the bright gibbous waning in in the vicinity of the radiant.

Earlier in the month on the morning of the 8th, a slight increase in the number of shooting stars overnight marks the peak of the Draconid or Giacobinid (whose parent body is the comet Giacobini-Zinner) meteor shower, with its radiant in the constellation of Draco the Dragon. Recently the earth passed through some concentrated filaments of particles, producing a high rate of about 500 meteors an hour. It is not likely, although not impossible, that there is a repeat this year. The moon is a waxing crescent in the evening sky so should not interfere with the number of Draconids seen. The meteors have the reputation of being slow moving but faint.

The dwarf planet Ceres (1), lies just 30 minutes of arc (one moon width) to the north of Saturn on the morning of the 4th, but at magnitude 8 will require telescopic assistance to locate.

On the 19th comet C/2013 A1, Sidings Spring, passes just 7 minutes (quarter of a moon width) from the planet Mars. The globular cluster NGC 6401 also lies nearby. In order to see the comet, a good telescope is required during the early evening as twilight ends.

Constellations visible in the south around midnight, mid-month, are as follows: Cetus, Pisces, Aries, Triangulum and Andromeda. Cassiopeia and the Milky Way lie at the zenith, with the Milky Way spanning the sky from east to west.


All times are GMT     1° is one finger width at arm’s length.


Information kindly supplied by John Harper, Honary President, Scarborough & Ryedale Astronomical Society

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