October offers some of the best skywatching conditions of the year. The nights are getting longer, while the weather is cooler but not frigid. The evening sky offers such treats as Andromeda and her famous galaxy, M31, as well as several other constellations associated with her mythological story. Other highlights include the two most prominent star clusters in the sky, the dipper-shaped Pleiades and nearby V-shaped Hyades, both in Taurus.
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In the Sky This Month
October 18: Uranus at Opposition
The planet Uranus is putting in its best appearance of the year this week. It rises at sunset and remains in the sky all night. It’s also closest to us for the year. It’s still so faint, though, that you need binoculars to find it.
October 19: New Moon
The new Moon will accompany the Sun as it climbs across the sky today. We can’t see the Moon because it is immersed in the Sun’s glare. The exact moment of new Moon is 2:12 p.m. CDT. The Moon will return to view after sunset tomorrow or Saturday.
October 20: Orionid Meteor Shower
The Orionid meteor shower should be at its best late tonight, and there will be no Moon in the sky then to spoil the show. The shower is known as the Orionids because its meteors “rain” from Orion, although they can streak across any part of the sky.
October 21: Little Dipper
The Little Dipper stands high above the Big Dipper, which is low in the northwest at nightfall. The Little Dipper’s bowl hangs upside down, like it’s pouring its water into the other dipper.
October 22: Pherkad
The star Pherkad, which forms the lower outer corner of the Little Dipper’s bowl, is much bigger, brighter, and heavier than the Sun. Over a period of a few hours, though, its brightness varies by a few percent, and astronomers aren’t sure why.
October 23: Moon and Saturn
Look for the planet Saturn near the crescent Moon early this evening. It looks like a bright star to the left of the Moon as twilight fades away. They set about three hours after the Sun.
October 24: More Moon and Saturn
Saturn, the solar system’s second-largest planet, huddles to the lower right of the Moon at nightfall this evening. Saturn has the largest ring system of any of the Sun’s planets, and the second-largest known retinue of moons.