October 1, 2020

9Teachers.Science

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The brightest planets in October’s night sky: How to see them (and when)

5 min read


October is the month of Mars.  Like a glowing coal it stands out in the eastern sky during the evening hours, especially during the first half of the month when it will glow brighter and appear bigger at any time until September 2035. Mars will be closest to Earth on the 6th and arrives at opposition to the sun on the 13th when it rises around sunset and moves across the sky all night.  Meanwhile, Jupiter (a bit dimmer than Mars for much of this month), and mellow, yellow Saturn sitting off to its left, begin to draw noticeably closer to each other, particularly as October winds down.  During the waning hours of the night, Venus dazzles in the east-northeast.  Finally, there is Mercury, which is visible with difficulty very low in the west-southwest right after sunset during the first week of October. 

In our schedule, remember that when measuring the angular separation between two celestial objects, your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures roughly 10-degrees.  Here, we present a schedule below which provides some of the best planet viewing times as well directing you as to where to look to see them.

Mercury 

(Image credit: )

Mercury – reaches greatest elongation, 26° east of the sun on the 1st.  But this zero-magnitude planet is also some 12° south of the sun in declination, so from latitude 40° north it sets only ¾ hour after sundown and is nearly impossible to see.  From the Gulf Coast states and the Southwest, however, Mercury will be somewhat higher, sets a bit later and should be glimpsed with the unaided eye.  On October 25th, Mercury passes inferior conjunction (between the Earth and the sun) and then rapidly enters the morning sky.   

Venus





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