While you’ve got your telescope trained on Capricornus, swing over to the western side of the constellation, where Saturn sits a little less than 16° west of Jupiter. A dimmer 0.4 to Jupiter’s magnitude –2.7, Saturn nonetheless stands out in a telescope with its stunning ring system, which stretches roughly 40″ end to end. Saturn’s largest and brightest moon, Titan, is due north of the ringed planet tonight. You’ll find its magnitude 8.5 glow about 56″ north of the center of the planet’s disk.
Wednesday, October 6
New Moon occurs at 7:05 A.M. EDT, meaning our night sky will be completely dark and Moon-free. The Moon reaches this phase when it sits directly between Earth and the Sun so only its farside is illuminated, leaving its entire nearer face in shadow and hidden from our view. This is exactly the situation needed for a solar eclipse to occur, and sometimes it does. However, because the Moon’s orbit doesn’t exactly line up with the position of the Sun in the sky, not every New Moon causes a solar eclipse. (The next one will come before the end of the year, on December 4 — but it only touches land in Antarctica.)
Sunrise: 7:02 A.M.
Sunset: 6:34 P.M.
Moonrise: 7:03 A.M.
Moonset: 7:02 P.M.
Moon Phase: New
Pluto is stationary at 9 A.M. EDT. If you have a large enough telescope, you can try finding this distant world after dark tonight. It’s located in Sagittarius, northeast of the Teapot asterism’s handle. The tiny dwarf planet, which glows at magnitude 15.2, sits within 7′ of a 7th-magnitude field star, HIP 97138. Pluto was previously moving southwest, but now it has reached a turnaround and will begin pulling away to the east-northeast as October progresses.
At 9:48 P.M. EDT, Io slips out from behind Jupiter’s long shadow, reappearing about 20′ east of the planet’s limb. On the other side of the disk, Europa is closing in from the west; the icy moon slides out of sight behind the planet at 10:14 P.M. EDT. Jupiter’s other two large moons, Ganymede and Callisto, sit far off to the west, with Callisto currently farthest from the planet.
Sunrise: 7:01 A.M.
Sunset: 6:35 P.M.
Moonrise: 5:51 A.M.
Moonset: 6:35 P.M.
Moon Phase: Waning crescent (1%)
Thursday, October 7
Venus crosses from Libra into Scorpius today. When you catch this evening star shortly after sunset tonight, you’ll see that its magnitude –4.3 glow is now 2.3° west of 2nd-magnitude Delta Scorpii, also called Dschubba. This star is one of three that make up the Scorpion’s head and its name means, appropriately, “the forehead.”
Venus itself is now 59 percent lit and 20″ across. It sets around 8:30 P.M. local time, so you should have a good while after sunset to observe it. Look farther to the planet’s east and you’ll run smack dab into 1st-magnitude Antares, Scorpius’ alpha star, whose red hue reveals that it is an aging red supergiant star whose color, as its name implies, rivals Mars.
The Red Planet itself reaches conjunction with the Sun at midnight EDT. Because it’s now on the opposite side of our star as Earth, the planet is not only invisible from our point of view, but it’s also harder for radio signals to reach it. That’s because emission from the Sun, which sits between our planets, can interfere with attempts to communicate between the two. So, NASA has announced it will refrain from sending commands to its fleet of martian missions until October 16, when conditions are more favorable. The missions are currently following preplanned programs, carrying out their orders autonomously until next week. Don’t worry, though, Mars lovers — it will pull out of the Sun’s glare and reappear in the early morning skies by December.
Sunrise: 7:03 A.M.
Sunset: 6:32 P.M.
Moonrise: 8:17 A.M.
Moonset: 7:32 P.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing crescent (2%) Friday, October 8
The Moon reaches perigee — the nearest point to Earth in its orbit — at 1:28 P.M. EDT. At that time, it will stand 225,797 miles (363,385 km) from our planet.
A second dwarf planet — this time 1 Ceres — reaches its stationary point this week. Magnitude 8 Ceres is stationary at 3 P.M. EDT, located in Taurus, which rises late this evening. Today, Ceres sits nearly 2.2° east of Aldebaran, the Bull’s brightest star. Like Antares, Aldebaran is a red giant star whose crimson hue is unmistakable. Ceres is also 3° south of the open cluster NGC 1647, which contains about 90 suns at a distance of nearly 1,800 light-years. You can see this loose collection of stars with binoculars or a small scope — in fact, lower power is better for seeing more of this cluster, which spreads out over about 45′.
Sunrise: 7:04 A.M.
Sunset: 6:30 P.M.
Moonrise: 9:34 A.M.
Moonset: 8:04 P.M.
Moon Phase: Waxing crescent (7%)