Triple-planet conjunction marks busy month
October is a fun month for stargazers. The Orionids meteor shower caused by debris from Halley’s comet peaks on Oct. 21. Both Mercury and Venus, the only two planets between us and the sun, will be visible in the morning sky this month. If you can get out before sunrise for a few days in a row when these planets are visible, you can make out their different phases (similar to the moon’s) with binoculars or a telescope. We also have our third and final supermoon of the year on Oct. 27 (no lunar eclipse like with last month’s supermoon, though).
Best of all, we have some neat planet conjunctions this month, including a triple on Oct. 28. First, on Oct. 26 when Venus reaches the highest point in the sky it can get, it also will be within one degree of Jupiter. These two planets are more than 400 million miles apart from one another, but it certainly won’t look that way before sunrise that Monday morning. This duo is the opening act to the main attraction.
Two mornings later, Mars makes it a threesome. The three most dazzling planets in our solar system — Venus, Mars and Jupiter — will glitter in a triangle within one degree of one another. A telescope or binoculars will take this wonderful and rare naked eye sight to another level. Each planet has something unique to offer on closer examination: Venus its moon-like phases, Mars its rusty red glow and Jupiter its cloud bands and moons. Get up early and don’t miss this treat.
Oct. 13: New moon.
Oct. 16: The planet Mercury reaches greatest western elongation of 18.1 degrees from the sun, placing it at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look low in the east just before sunrise.
Oct. 21, 22: Orionids meteor shower. This shower produces up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust grains left behind by Halley’s comet. We pass through these particles annually from Oct. 2 to Nov. 7. The shower peaks this year on the night of Oct. 21 and the morning of Oct. 22. There will be a first quarter moon and it’ll set before midnight. Meteors will radiate from the highly recognizable constellation Orion, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
Oct. 26: Venus reaches greatest eastern elongation of 46.4 degrees from the sun — its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look east before sunrise. When you see Venus, you’ll notice Jupiter right next to it. The two bright planets will sit within one degree of each other in the early morning sky.
Oct. 27: Full moon.
Oct. 28: The planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter will all form a tight one-degree triangle in the early morning sky. Look to the east just before sunrise for this rare sight.