Uranus at Its Best, and More Can’t-Miss Sky Events in October

 In Science

The Voyager 2 spacecraft beamed home this close view of the planet Uranus in January 1986.

October is jam-packed with sky-watching delights, from shooting stars created by a famed comet to a celestial dance featuring the moon, Mars, and Venus. The night skies will also showcase a far-flung planet at its best for the year, while early mornings will offer a lunar hide-and-seek with a brilliant star.

So dust off those binoculars, and mark your October calendar!

Mars and Venus Join Forces—October 5

The planets Mars and Venus will appear relatively close in the early morning skies in October.

Early risers looking toward the low eastern sky an hour before local sunrise will be greeted by the planetary duo Venus and Mars. Try using binoculars to pierce the morning glow and pick out super-bright Venus from fainter, ruddy Mars as they seem to hover over the horizon.

Moon Meets Stellar Bull’s Eye—October 9

The moon will be near the eye of the constellation Taurus, the bull, on October 9.

On this night, the waning gibbous moon will be rising near local midnight in the eastern sky, where it will glide through the constellation Taurus, the bull. That path will bring the moon near the bright orange star Aldebaran, which marks the eye of the mythical bull.

Moon Buzzes Beehive—October 13

On October 13, the moon will serve as a guide to finding the faint Beehive star cluster.

For a great early morning observing challenge, look for the pairing of our moon with the Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer, the crab. Using binoculars or a telescope, look toward the eastern sky for the waning crescent moon starting in the predawn hours.

About seven degrees to its lower left, or the width of your fist held at arm’s length, you should find the star cluster. Known to the ancient Greeks, this mass of about a thousand stars lies 610 light-year away and stretches across 40 light-years.

From a dark site far away from city lights, the Beehive is visible to the naked eye as a small hazy patch in the sky. But with the moon so close, your best bet to spot the cluster will be to use binoculars to cut through the lunar glare.

Moon Eclipses Leo’s Heart—October 15

Lucky observers across much of North America will get to see the moon play hide-and-seek with one of the brightest stars in the overnight sky. Look for the waning crescent moon to glide up to the star Regulus, the brightest member of the constellation Leo, the lion.

The pair will be low in the eastern sky about 45 minutes before your local sunrise. Around this time, the blue-white star will appear to wink out on the lit side of the moon; it will reappear on the moon’s unlit side about an hour later. The best seats in the house will be in eastern North America, where the entire event will be visible. Those in the west will only catch the second half of the show, as the moon rises and the star pops back into view.

Zodiacal Lights—October 15-30

For about two weeks, observers in the Northern Hemisphere will have their best chance to see an ethereal display called the zodiacal lights thanks to a nearly moonless sky in the predawn hours. The phenomenon is caused by sunlight reflecting off countless dust particles that are scattered between the planets along the plane of the solar system.

In the dark countryside far from city lights, look for a pyramid-shaped glow fainter than the Milky Way rising above the eastern horizon. This month, Venus and Mars will be visible at the base of this pyramid of light.

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