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The Skies of October, 2023

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October Skies

by Dick Cookman

September 29, 2023

Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, October Moon

Focus Constellations: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Pegasus, Cygnus, Aquila, Lyra, Hercules

Comet Journals

Comets C/2023 P1 (Nishimura) was briefly viewed in the glow of the Sun before dawn in the first week of September between Cancer and Leo then moved into evening skies, staying so close to the Sun and horizon that relatively few observers were able to enjoy its beauty as it moved through Leo in the 2nd week, and Virgo in late September before dropping into southern hemisphere skies. It may be an Oort Belt comet and was closest to Earth on September 12. It passed through perihelion on September 18.

Comet 103P/Hartley is a nice sight at 8th magnitude in larger (50+mm) binoculars, or small (3 to 4in.) diameter telescopes. In early to mid-October it moves from Auriga, through Gemini, into Cancer. It was closest to Earth on September 26 and will reach perihelion on October 12. The green comet has a mile long tail hiding behind it so we see a slightly out of round image with one side showing a tiny bit of the tail.

Mars Landers

The Mars Perseverance rover is exploring Jezero Crater and collecting samples of rocks and soil that may preserve signs of ancient life. Those samples have been stowed for future return to Earth. Experiments with the onboard MOXIE instrument have been completed, proving that it can generate oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. The oxygen can be used to combust rocket fuel for the return trip to Earth for future missions, greatly reducing the need to transport oxygen from Earth for that purpose. Returning samples to Earth, would permit far more extensive testing in order to reveal details about the origin of Mars, its ancient history, and modern day conditions which influence formation and evolution of the samples. Mars has abundant CO2, H2O, an other substances which may be utilized for the production of oxygen and other substances, facilitating life support and enabling logistical advances for the eventual visitation and exploration and of Mars by humans.

Meteor Showers

October provides the moderate Draconid meteor shower and a better Orionid shower which is more favorable because the Moon sets well before best viewing at 4:00AM.

  • October 8-9, 11PM: Draconids. Active Oct. 6 – 10. Radiant 17h28m +54°. ZHR 0 to storm. 20 km/sec. Unfavorable, Waning Crescent Moon. Progenitor: Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner
  • October 21, 4AM: Orionids. Active October 2 – November 7. Radiant 06h20m +16°. ZHR 20. 66 km/sec. favorable – Waxing Crescent Moon. Progenitor: Comet 1P/Halley.

Planet Plottings

Mercury (-1.0 to -0.7) in Leo, Virgo, and Libra, Venus (-4.4 to -4.2 in Leo, and Uranus (+5.7 to +5.6) and Jupiter (-2.7 to -2.8) in Aries are morning planets. Before sunrise on the 1st, Mercury is low in the sky. By the 5th, it is lost in the Sun’s glare as it approaches superior solar conjunction on the 20th. Venus shines brightly before dawn below Leo throughout the month. It is brightest in early October and highest in the southwestern sky on the 23rd when at greatest western elongation of 46 degrees. Uranus and Jupiter rise in Aries after 8PM EDT and are best viewed when they are high in the southern sky after midnight. As Jupiter approaches solar opposition on November 3, it will get progressively brighter during October.

Neptune and Saturn rise before sunset and are best viewed in the evening. Although Saturn’s opposition with the Sun was last month, it is still an impressive sight in southern evening skies. Mars is now on the other side of the Sun and is lost to view as it is buried in its glare and approaching solar conjunction on November 18.

A waning gibbous Moon appears to pass Jupiter on the 1st and Uranus on the 2nd. The waning crescent passes Venus on the 10th and Mercury on the 14th. The waxing Crescent passes Mars on the 15th, then the waxing gibbous Moon passes Saturn on the 24th, Neptune on the 25th, and Jupiter & Uranus on the 29th.

PlanetConstellation(s)MagnitudePlanet PassagesTimeDate
SunVirgo-26.5New Moon1:55PM EDT10/14
MercuryLeo, Virgo, Libra-1.0 to -0.7Superior Conjunction2:00AM EDT10/20
VenusLeo-4.4 to -4.2Max. West Elongation (46 degrees)7:00PM EDT10/23
MarsVirgo, Libra1.7 to 1.5   
JupiterAries-2.7 to -2.8   
SaturnAquarius0.6 to 0.7   
UranusAries5.7 to 5.6   

October Moon

The New Moon of October is in Virgo on the 14th at 1:55PM EDT. There will be an annular solar eclipse in the western USA on a line from the southwest coast of Oregon to southeast coast of southern Texas. The New Moon marks the start of Lunation 1247 which ends 29.68 days later with the New Moon of November in Aquarius on the 13th at 4:26AM EST.

The Full Moon on the 28th occurs at 4:24PM in Sagittarius. It is called the Hunter’s Moon. It was called the Blood Moon in Medieval England. For Celts, it was the Harvest Moon and, in China, it is the Kindly Moon. The Harvest Moon was in September this year and Colonial Americans called the succeeding full moon the Hunter’s Moon because hunters can easily see and hunt any animals attracted by the produce left behind in the newly harvested fields.

Anishnaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) first people recognize the 10th Moon of the year as “Binaakwe-giizis” (Falling Leaves Moon). Ontario’s Earth Haven Farm presents cultural teachings explaining the cycle of life and nature of October’s Grandmother Moon of Creation: “The tenth moon of Creation is the Falling Leaves Moon, a time when Mother Earth is honoured with the grandest of colours. As all of Creation makes their offerings to her, we become aware of all the miracles of Creation before us and our spiritual energies are once again awakened.”

Lunar Apogee (maximum lunar distance) is on October 9 at 11:42PM EDT when the Moon’s distance is 251,920 mi. (63.57 Earth radii). Lunar perigee is on the 25th when the Moon is at 226,721 mi. (57.21 Earth radii) at 11:02PM EDT.

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassagesMoon PhaseMoon Age
SunVirgo-26.81:55PM EDT, 10/14New0 Days
MercuryVirgo-1.30.65°S, 6:00AM EDT, 10/14Waning Crescent29.39 Days
VenusLeo-4.36.0°N, 6:00AM EDT, 10/10Waning Crescent25.35 Days
MarsVirgo1.70.94°S, Noon EDT, 10/15Waxing Crescent0.92 Days
JupiterAries-2.73.0°N, 11:00PM EDT, 10/1Waning Gibbous17.06 Days
JupiterAries-2.83.0°N, 4:00AM EDT, 10/29Waning Gibbous14.59 Days
SaturnAquarius0.73.0°S, 4:00AM EDT, 10/24Waxing Gibbous9.59 Days
UranusAries5.73.0°N, 1:00PM EDT, 10/2Waning Gibbous17.64 Days
UranusAries5.63.0°N, 10:00PM EDT, 10/29Waning Gibbous15.34 Days
NeptunePisces7.81.5° S, 9:00PM EDT, 10/25Waxing Gibbous11.30 Days

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