The Moon & Planets’ Early October

Hey, Sky Fans! Well, here we are, the first week of October.

It’s a fun and busy few days in the skies, so let’s have a look at what’s happening. It’s all centered around the Moon, as a lot of these things tend to be. All apologies for not getting a chance to post this sooner. With holidays and soccer games, and who-know-what-else, it’s busy a fun and busy few days for me, too. So, I need to bang this post out quickly.

So, ready? All right. Let’s get to it!

Tonight, October 3, if your skies low in the west are dark enough, you’ll be able to see a very thin crescent Moon sitting only about 5 degrees above our sister planet, Venus: the So-Hot-It-Can-Melt-Lead one. Remember, all that hubbub about the Black Moon (the second new Moon of the month) was just a couple of days ago, on September 30, so this crescent will be pretty thin. That, with the fact that the days are shortening and the skies are darkening earlier but not quite early enough, will make this a bit of a challenge to see. If you can, though, it’ll be worth it. These sorts of challenges are always worth it, if you ask me. As an added bonus, Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes, the herdsman, and one of my favorite stars, will be high in the western sky around this same time, and pretty easy to see in the deepening dusk (Disclosure: I wrote “deepening duck” at first).

This will be at its best around 20 minutes past sunset, which, tonight, almost unbelievably is 6:33pm where I live. By the end of the week, it’ll be before 6:30.

Maybe more important than the Moon, though, will be the bigger view. If you’re able to find Venus, and then turn southward, which is to your left, you’ll see two more bright planets. First, you’ll come to Saturn, the hexagonal-polar-vortex one, about 30 degrees away, so about the width of three fists held at arms’ length. In your mind, imagine a line connecting Venus and Saturn. About two more fists away, further to your left along that line, you’ll find the third bright evening planet, Mars, the pink-skied one. That line is called the ecliptic, the apparent path the Sun takes across the sky. Since, for the most part, the planets all orbit in he same plane, we see them and the Sun take more or less the same path across the sky. So they’re always in an easy to find line.

If you think back to the summer months, those two were dancing around each other in the skies along with the bright red star Antares, in the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion. What was, in August, a neat equilateral triangle, is now a wide isosceles stretching off into the night.

Keep an eye on that line, and watch as the Moon grows toward its first quarter phase on October 8 (the 60th anniversary of the only perfect game in World Series history) and shows its face higher and farther east each night this week. You’ll have more time to see it and it will be visible later into the evening. It’ll cut straight across Scorpius, and pass Saturn and Mars as it does.

I don’t want to, because it’s all going to be great, but if I really have to pick a best night to watch this week, I think I’ll pick Tuesday night, October 4. By then, the Moon will be a bit fatter of a crescent, and it’ll be higher in the sky, and therefore, easier to see. It’ll more or less halfway between Venus and Saturn, but still in the gorgeous, fiery glowing oranges and pinks of sunset. If the clouds cooperate, you’re in for a treat. These fall evenings are a great time to see these things, and I really can’t wait.

Here’s a sketch of what you’ll see over the next few nights. I hope it helps. Just like the rest of this post, I needed to do it quickly.

img_3664
The southwest skies October 3-8, 2016, 20 minutes after sunset

If you’re looking to start finding your way around the skies and keeping your eyes on the planets, or maybe you’ve got a friend who’s curious whom you can show around, this is really a great week to start. Even if you’re not just starting out, it’ll be exciting.

Wow… all that in one breath. Phew. Thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!

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