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Urban observing – October 2013 September 30, 2013

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Urban Observing.
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ISON update

In late September, ISON remained a dim, 12th magnitude object, so it’s probably not going to be a good urban skies object. It’s in Leo this month, which is low in the east at 6 AM at the start of the month, and somewhat higher in the ESE at 6AM on Halloween. Star charts are available at http://www.aerith.net/comet/catalog/2012S1/2012S1.html. If you want to generate your own charts or have a go-to ‘scope, you can get the ephemeris from http://scully.cfa.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/returnprepeph.cgi?d=c&o=CK12S010.
Early risers who do astrophotography may want to check out the ISON campaign at http://isoncampaign.org/. You can get the latest predictions and news on observing from there, or share your images to help scientists gain a better understanding of comets.

Meteor Showers

The Orionids occur this year on October 21 – 22. The best time to observe is 3 – 5 AM, when Orion in high and the sky overhead is facing into the oncoming stream of meteors. This is not the best shower for those new to observing: expect 15 – 25 meteors per hour, mostly swift and faint. You’ll want a dark sky with a clear view from east to south to catch the most meteors.

Now on to things that actually ARE good for urban observers!


Mercury is at its best early this month. Greatest eastern elongation occurs on Oct. 9, which is the farthest it gets from the Sun, so it’s the best evening views. Unfortunately, the ecliptic is close the the horizon at sunset this time of year, so look for it to be low in the WSW about 15 minutes after sunset. Use binoculars on Oct. 6 to spot it along with a young Moon and Saturn 5º – 10º above the WSW horizon, and about 20º from bright Venus.

October 6, 7:30 PM.  Image made using Starry Night.

October 6, 7:30 PM.
Image made using Starry Night.

Venus plays evening star this month. It hangs out low in the southwest, easily visible for more than an hour after sunset all month. Look for a nice conjunction with a young Moon and the stars of Scorpius on Oct 8. It passes close by the red giant Antares Oct 15 – 17. Greatest eastern elongation occurs on October 30, so the end of this month and early November will the best time to observe.

Mars is still a morning planet. Look for it somewhat high in the east an hour before sunrise all month. An old moon passes close by on Oct 1, and again Oct 29. There’s a conjunction with Regulus on Oct 14.

Jupiter is also out in the morning for October, although it rises just before midnight at the end of the month (actually, at 10:56 on Oct 31!) Look for a nice third quarter Moon to pass it by on Oct 25 – 26. It is working its way slowly through Gemini right now, so look for it high in the ESE an hour before sunrise.

Saturn is a hard catch in the evening twilight. You’ll need binoculars to pick it out of the glow, and by the end of the month it might not be worth the effort. Look for the crescent Moon very close to it on the 7th, which is almost as good as the grouping on the 6th. Mercury and Saturn are at their closest on the 8th.

Uranus and Neptune are both good targets if you have a ‘scope and can find them. Look for Uranus in Pisces about 20º up in the ESE at 9 PM on the first of the month, and almost 40º above SE at 9 PM on the 31st.  Neptune is in Aquarius, 30º above SE on the 1st, and 35º above south on the 31, both at 9 PM again. Neptune shares the field with a couple other stars of 7th magnitude, so a good finder chart will be very useful. Uranus is at opposition on Oct. 3, so it’s also at its brightest right now. At magnitude 5.7, it should be unmistakable if you get your ‘scope pointed at it. The next brightest thing within 5º is a background star of magnitude 6.9!

October 19, 9 PM EDT, looking southeast. Image made using Starry Night.

October 19, 9 PM EDT, looking southeast. Image made using Starry Night.


The full Moon occurs at 23:38 UT (7:38 PM EDT) on Oct 18. Technically, there’s an eclipse at that time (running from 5:51 – 9:50 PM EDT, with deepest eclipse at 7:50 PM.) However, it’s a penumbral eclipse, so unless you’re a really careful observer, or have a photometer to measure the light reflected from the Moon, you won’t notice a thing. If you want to know more, check out Fred Espenak’s page on it: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OH2013.html#LE2013Oct18N.



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