By Garry Beckstrom
HERE’S WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS MONTH
Click HERE to Download our basic EVENING Star Map for October 2017 (pdf)
(For star maps to print properly, download pdf and save to your computer, then print from there.)
Download our star maps to help you find your way around the sky.
Our basic star maps show the planets and major star patterns or constellations visible in the evening and morning skies this month, without faint background stars. This makes it easier to pick out the brighter patterns in the real sky. Hold the map over your head with “North” on the map facing the direction north. The middle of the circular map (marked “zenith”) is the point directly over your head. The edges of the circular map mark the horizon all around you. Find one of the bright constellation patterns, ignoring fainter stars you might see in between. You can then jump from constellation to constellation, finding your way around the sky. It helps to use a dim, red flashlight so that you can see both the map and the sky together.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS MONTH
All descriptions below are for mid-northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. EST is Eastern Standard Time in North America.
EDT is Eastern Daylight Time in North America.
Below you’ll find a section about what to see in the EVENING SKY this month, followed by a section about what to see in the early MORNING SKY before dawn.
Below those sections you’ll find a list of dates this month where we point out specific things to look for on those days, along with other interesting information.
We hope you’ll find our night sky information fun and easy to use. Happy Stargazing!
THE EVENING SKY IN OCTOBER
The giant planet Jupiter is just about gone from the evening sky now, each evening sinking closer and closer to the Sun. By the end of the first week of the month it will not be visible in the glare of sunset.
If you still want to try to catch Jupiter before it disappears, you’ll need a clear view all the way down to the western horizon. Try binoculars to pick it out, but be VERY CAREFUL you wait until the Sun has completely set so there is no chance of you seeing the Sun with the binoculars. You could DAMAGE YOUR EYES!
Easier to find after the Sun sets will be the beautiful ringed planet Saturn. Look southwest after sunset to find it. Don’t confuse the bright star Antares with Saturn. Once Saturn sets in the evening, there are no other planets visible until just before dawn.
As the month goes on Saturn will appear to get a little lower in the sky each night.
A small telescope will even show the beautiful rings around Saturn! Right now the rings are tilted toward us wider than they’ve been since 2003. The next time they will be open this wide toward us will be in 2032.
To find your way around the night sky, I always suggest one should start with what I call “landmarks.” These landmarks are easy to find patterns of stars that you can use to then jump around and find other patterns.
Look below at the picture. It shows the entire October evening sky in the same way as our basic star maps. The middle of the circle is directly overhead in the sky and the edge of the circle shows the horizon all around you.
Compare the picture below with our Evening Star Map (Click HERE to Download our basic EVENING Star Map for October 2017 (pdf))
Here’s the same scene as above, but with some labels. Can you find the “landmarks” called the Summer Triangle and the Great Square? Once you find those patterns you’ll have an idea where to look for others.
Be aware though that when you are outside, the real sky will be much more spread out than the star map, and the star patterns will appear larger.
You can use the same technique using the Big and Little Dippers as landmarks. Notice how low in the northern sky the Big Dipper is in the fall.
THE MORNING SKY IN OCTOBER
The eastern sky before dawn is where you’ll find the planets Venus and Mars dancing around this month.
Venus is the easiest object to find because it’s so bright. Mars is much fainter, so you’ll have to look carefully to see it.
Look below at the picture. It shows the entire October morning sky just before dawn begins, in the same way as our basic star maps. As with the evening charts above, the middle of the circle is directly overhead in the sky and the edge of the circle shows the horizon all around you.
Compare the picture below with our Morning Star Map (Click HERE to Download our basic MORNING Star Map for October 2017 (pdf))
As we did in the evening sky, you can use “landmarks” to help find your way around. In this case the bright pattern of Orion should be easy to find because of the three stars in a line that mark the “Belt of Orion.” You can also once again use the Big and Little Dippers. (Notice the change in the position of the dippers from where they were in the evening sky.)
When looking around the sky using a star map, just use a section of the map at a time. For example, turn and face south, and hold the map in front of you with south at the bottom. Notice how what you see in the south (as shown below) matches the bottom section of the map you’re holding in front of you.
Now turn and face east. Hold the star map in front of you with east at the bottom. As you see below, you’ll see Venus and Mars just above the horizon in the east.
Now turn and face north. Hold the star map in front of you with north at the bottom. As you see below, you’ll see you’ll find the Big and Little Dipper in front of you.
SCROLL DOWN TO SEE WHAT TO LOOK FOR ON SOME SPECIFIC DAYS THIS MONTH
BE SURE TO CLICK ON EACH SCENE BELOW FOR A FULL IMAGE.
October 5 – MORNING – Venus and Mars are extremely close to each other. This is a great morning to get out your binoculars and take a look at the pair. The two haven’t been this close together in the sky since 1995.
EVENING – Full Moon occurs at 2:40 p.m. EDT. The Moon is now half way around the Earth in its orbit. The Earth is between the Moon and the Sun so we see the Moon fully lit. We now see the Moon opposite the Sun in the sky, so as the Sun sets, the Moon rises. October’s full moon will be called the Harvest Moon this year because it is closer to the Autumnal Equinox than September’s full moon. The October full moon is also known as the Hunter’s Moon.
October 6 – EVENING – The bright star Antares is well to the lower right of Saturn. When searching for Saturn, don’t confuse the two.
October 9 – MORNING – The bright star near the Moon this morning is called Aldebaran.
To the upper right of the Moon is the beautiful star cluster known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. Check it out in binoculars!
October 12 – MORNING– Last Quarter Moon occurs at 8:25 a.m. EDT. The Moon is three-quarters of the way around the Earth now. It appears half lit in the early morning sky; the lighted side always faces the Sun.
October 15 – MORNING– The Moon will pass in front of the bright star Regulus this morning. This kind of event is called an occultation. This occultation will be visible to most people in the United States and Mexico. You only need a pair of binoculars to watch.
Regulus will disappear behind the bright edge of the Moon and reappear around an hour later from behind the dark edge of the Moon. This is a great demonstration of the movement of the Moon in its orbit around the Earth.
Those in the eastern U.S. will experience the event during dawn, while those farther west will have darker skies. Those on the west coast will miss the star disappearing behind the Moon, since the Moon won’t be up yet. They will however see Regulus reappear.
Times will vary depending on your location. To find the disappearance and reappearance times for your location, go to http://lunar-occultations.com/iota/bstar/1015zc1487.htm The tables there are confusing but just remember that the first two letters are for the country. So, if you’re in the U.S., scroll down until you see “US.”
Times in the above table are listed in Universal Time. To convert Universal Time to your local time go to http://www.timebie.com/std/utc.php
Below is where the Moon and Regulus will be in the sky this morning.
October 17 – EVENING – A little crescent Moon is just above Venus and right next to Mars this morning before sunrise. Time to get out your binoculars!
October 19 – EVENING– New Moon occurs at 3:12 p.m. EDT. The Moon is directly between the Earth and Sun and not visible. In a couple of days it will appear as a thin crescent in the evening as it pulls away from the Sun from our point of view. The crescent, or lit side of the Moon, always faces the Sun.
October 20 – MORNING– Orionid Meteor Shower. See October 21.
October 21 – MORNING– The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks this morning, but meteors from this shower should be visible for several days around this date.
The best time to try to catch some meteors will be early morning before dawn. The area of the sky where meteors will appear to be coming from in the constellation of Orion will then be up. Plus, the Moon won’t interfere by lighting up the sky. If you are under a dark sky you might see 10-20 per hour.
Bring a lawn chair or something to sit in so you can lean back. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, but when traced backward will seem to be coming from just above Orion. You need to be patient and watch for an hour or more. It’s the most fun if you watch the shower with other people so more of the sky can be covered. The early morning hours are always colder than you think, so make sure you dress warm.
Meteors are sometimes called “shooting stars” and of course they are not really stars, but pieces of debris the size of grains of sand or slightly larger. A meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through the orbit or path of a comet. As comets move in their orbits around the Sun, they leave debris all along their orbits. These small pieces burn up in our atmosphere when we encounter them, causing the streaks of light that we see. In the case of the Orionid Meteor Shower, the debris is from Comet Halley.
October 22 – MORNING– Orionid Meteor Shower. See October 21.
October 23 – EVENING – Saturn is getting pretty low lately after sunset. Tonight you’ll find Saturn to the left of the Moon.
October 24 – EVENING – Compare tonight’s scene with last night’s above. You’ll see that the Moon has now passed Saturn and is now to the upper left of the ringed planet.