Sechelt Skies: How to spot these four (yes, really) outer planets this October

Mars continues to get brighter each night throughout October. It begins the rising month ENE just before midnight and just to the left of bright star Aldebaran in Taurus. Last month it started over Aldebaran but has moved east along the ecliptic and while Aldebaran mag 0.85, Mars is now brighter and redder at mag -0.59. Mars has moved through the sky in a prograde (east) direction, but that will end on October 30 with Mars about 15 degrees east of Aldebaran and almost due north of Betelgeuse, the bright pink star on Orion’s upper left. The three objects make a pretty triangle, two pink stars, and a brighter, redder Mars. By that time it will have brightened to a magnitude of -1.2. We will almost catch up with Mars, and our own faster motion will make Mars appear to be moving backwards (west) through the stars. Things get better and better in November before opposition on December 7th. The Stellarium screenshot shows the position of Mars in the sky from October 1 to the end of March 2023. If anyone has kids who are looking for a challenge, convince them to get up at 5 a.m. every clear morning and take a cell phone photo of Orion south before sunrise. The resulting series of images clearly shows the movement of Mars against the stars.

Jupiter was at opposition in late September, so it’s as big and bright as it gets. On the night of October 3-4, all four major moons are lined up east (left) of Jupiter and in order of their distance from the planet: Io closest, then Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto furthest east. Two weeks later, on the night of October 17-18, they will do it again, although it will be difficult to distinguish all four moons. That night, Io and Europa launch very close together, and Ganymede and Callisto are no more than a minute of arc apart; that is one-thirtieth the diameter of our moon.

Next is Saturn, well past its mid-August opposition. Although I’ve viewed Saturn through telescopes a few times – and it’s awesome – I don’t usually use binoculars because I can never see the rings. However, I recently read that it is possible to see its large moon Titan with binoculars. Having recently bought a pair of 15 x 70 binoculars I have to try and see it as Titan is about four ring diameters from the planet at its maximum extent. According to Stellarium, Titan is in maximum elongation from Saturn around October 4 and it takes about a week to make half an orbit to its other extreme. I’ll let you know if I succeed.

Another interesting event should be visible on the evening of October 11th. The Moon will rise ENE shortly after completion around 1930 and will be about 20 degrees above the horizon and almost due east by 2140. Look about one moon width to the left at about the 8 o’clock position. If the sky is clear and dark and your eyesight is good enough, you may be able to spot a very faint star. The moon, meanwhile, is moving down and to the left (east) relative to the stars, and by 2208 this star will be directly at the lower left edge of the moon and will be rapidly eclipsed. About an hour later, at 11:11 p.m., it will reappear behind the moon. With the moon’s right edge in shadow, this faint star will quickly blink into view. Except that the “star” is actually the planet Uranus. Be sure to use binoculars if you have them, as Uranus is right on the limit of naked-eye visibility. Btw I’ve never sighted Uranus in 40 years of observation, mainly because my scope is strictly manual and my setting circles aren’t accurate enough and I’ve never noticed it close enough to anything I can find. Spotting it on October 11 should be a piece of cake though. Even in telescopes larger than my eight inches, Uranus is just a tiny blue-green disk. His moons are also beyond my means. Interestingly, if you miss it in October, you can see it again around 0610 on November 8, when the moon sets in the west. No coverage this time, but a very close passage just north of Uranus.

The public club meeting in October will take place on October 14th at 7:30 p.m. in the Sechelt library with the lecture topic “Why I love globular clusters” by Peter Jedicke. Globular clusters are densely packed spheres of hundreds of thousands to millions of stars orbiting our galaxy.

Please check the Sunshine Coast Club website at for updates.

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