Viewing the October Night Sky

October already and stargazers will be chomping at the bit to get out and view the night sky as it gets darker earlier. In the UK, the clocks go back by one hour on Sunday 28th October as British Summer Time (BST) comes to an end. Officially, the time changes at 02:00 (BST), moving back to 01:00 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Moon Phases

  • Last Quarter – 8th October, 07:33
  • New Moon – 15th October, 12:02
  • First Quarter – 22nd October, 03:32
  • Full Moon – 29th October, 19:49

Times are listed in Universal Time (UT).

The Planets You Can See

Mercury, Mars, and Saturn aren’t easy to view being so close to the Sun from our point of view this month.

Venus rises about 03:30 just in front of the Sun, so it’s one for the night owls, or very early morning larks.

The biggest planetary highlight this month is Jupiter. It’s out to the East in the constellation of Taurus the bull, giving this section of the sky even richer pickings for astronomers than usual.

Although Uranus is due South around midnight, both it and the further outlining planet, Neptune aren’t visible without the aid of a telescope or binoculars.

The View from Glasgow, UK on October

If the weather is favourable, the night of the New Moon is ideal for getting the best view of the faint objects that grace our night sky. This October, the New Moon falls on the 15th. The fast moving, but quite faint and hard to see Orionids peak around the 22nd of October. Look out after midnight to stand the best chance of seeing these meteors, at the rate of about 20 to 25 per hour, that are dust remnants of Halley’s Comet. Click to embiggen any of the images below.

The view looking South from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012

The view looking South from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking South from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

Planet Uranus is due South around midnight this month, but not visible by the unaided eye. Very low on the horizon is a bright star Fomalhaut. At just 25 light years away, this blue-white star represents the mouth of a fish in the southern constellation, Piscis Austrinus.

The view looking West from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012

The view looking West from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking West from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

Looking West at midnight, you should be able to see the stars that form the Summer Triangle – Deneb, Altair and Vega.

The view looking North from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012

The view looking North from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking North from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

Look north and you should see the Plough (or Big Dipper) – an asterism that points to Polaris (the North star).

The view looking East from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012

The view looking East from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking East from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

Out East, you should see Orion emerging just behind Taurus the bull, with its bright red eye, Aldebaron. Close to that is Jupiter, sitting within the bull’s horns, and the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters) in the bull’s back. A little higher above the horizon is Capella – the ‘Goat Star’ in the constellation of Aries – and to the North East the twins, Castor and Pollux of Gemini.

Whole Sky View from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012

Whole Sky View from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

Whole Sky View from Glasgow, UK on 15th October 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The constellation of Cassiopeia is almost directly overhead and points to the Andromeda Galaxy – a fuzzy patch of light that is some 2.4 million light years from us and the farthest object you can view with just your eyes. You can also see the Great Square of Pegasus (more about that shortly) but those bright stars of the constellation outline a fairly barren part of the night sky.

Constellation of the Month – The winged-horse, Pegasus

The winged-horse, Pegasus. Made using Stellarium.

The winged-horse, Pegasus. Made using Stellarium.

Your eyes do not deceive you: Pegasus is a horse with wings. The legendary, ancient Greek equine carried the hero, Perseus on life-risking journeys across the land after the beast emerged from the body of a beheaded, Medusa.

The distinctive ‘Great Square’ is formed by the three brightest stars in the constellation plus the brightest of the adjoining, Andromeda. Pisces, one of the Zodiacal constellations, also bounds Pegasus. The two fishes are joined at the tail by cord.

Enif, the muzzle of the horse is a double-star system whose name is derived from the Arabic for ‘nose’. A good set of binoculars or a telescope will allow you to see the two stars that form the pair.

Lying some 30,000 light years from us the globular cluster, M15 can be seen using binos, just away from the snout of the horse, like a hazy patch of its breath in the night sky.

Other Space News

Mars Curiosity

The rover continues to send back some amazing images, including the transit of the Martian moon, Phobos across the face of the Sun; and images of what appear to be consistent with an ancient streambed that would have had ankle-deep flowing water.

The MSF is on its way to Glenelg on the red planet, though back on Earth, astronauts, astronomers and Mars fans are making their way to Glenelg, in Rosshire, Scotland to celebrate the rover reaching a location they think will yield rocks of interest that could help determine whether the environment could have ever supported life.

Hubble’s eXtreme Deep Field

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field 2012. (Credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team)

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field 2012. (Credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team)

It’s the telescope that just keeps on giving! Hubble has been taking images of the same small patch of sky on a regular basis for the last decade and now scientists have released an incredible image called the ‘eXtreme Deep Field’ (you might have previously seen Hubble’s ‘Ultra Deep Field’ view). It shows our farthest ever view of the Universe, which is effectively looking back in time some 13.4 billion years, and – if you’re counting – some 5,500 galaxies in a patch of sky no bigger than the nail on your smallest finger at arms length. Incredible!

New Book – Stargazing for Dummies

There’s a great new guide to making the most of viewing the night sky, written by Steve Owens (@darkskyman) and released as part of the internationally famous Dummies Guide series. Steve used to manage the Planetarium at Glasgow Science Centre and was my boss for a while – so this comes highly recommended! It’ll be a great gift and indispensable tool for those just getting into astronomy; those who’ve been gazing for a while; and those who think they know the night sky inside out! Get your copy by clicking on the book cover below…

Happy stargazing!

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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