by Jon Spargo
All Sci-Fi references aside, the red planet will be a scant 38,547,383 miles from Earth on October 6th. In recent times, it has been closer to Earth only in 2003 and 2018. You can celebrate “Opposition” from the Sun on the 13th, when Mars will be 38,959,973 miles from Earth. What makes this year’s appearance special is that Mars will be well north of its sky position in 2018. During this month, its peak magnitude will be -2.6, briefly outshining Jupiter. It will be ideally placed for viewing surface features. So, break out your telescopes and go for it! Mars will not be this close to us again until 2035.
Jupiter and Saturn will continue to dominate the early evening sky. The magnitudes of both planets fade slightly by the end of the month. Both are still well placed for telescopic observations of moons and rings. Both planets reach eastern quadrature late this month which means they cast shadows to the east. This will enhance viewing of eclipses of Jupiter’s moons and shadows from Saturn’s rings.
Early-morning sky watchers will be rewarded as brilliant Venus still rises at least 3 hours before the Sun. Shining at magnitude -4.1, its visible phase increases from 72 to 81 percent of its cloudy atmosphere. Tiny Mercury will not be visible to us this month.
The Moon will be full on the 1st, last quarter on the 10th, new on the 16th, first quarter on the 23rd, and full again on the 31st. So, for Halloween, we’ll have a “Blue Moon” which is two full Moons in one month. It also happens that the full Moon on the 1st will be the “Harvest Moon.” The Harvest Moon is the full Moon nearest to the equinox which was September 22nd.
Looking east on the mornings of October 13 and 14, about an hour before sunrise, the waning crescent Moon will visit brilliant Venus.
Looking south-southwest on the night of the 22nd, the nearly first quarter Moon can be found just below and about halfway between Jupiter and Saturn.
Looking east on the 29th, one hour after sunset, the nearly full Moon will be just below the red planet Mars.
Stay safe and Clear Skies!