Mars and Saturn pop into view as soon as darkness falls in early October 2014. In early October, look for ruddy Mars rather close to Antares, the constellation Scorpius’ brightest star. Antares is said to rival Mars in color and brightness, but not now; Antares is brighter. Look for golden Saturn to the west of Mars, in front of the constellation Libra the Scales. At mid-northern latitudes, Mars will stay out about 3 hours after sunset all month long. Saturn, on the other hand, will quickly fade into the sunset glare, setting about two hours after the sun in early October and about 45 minutes after sunset by the month’s end. The moon sweeps close to Saturn on October 25, the star Antares on October 26, and then Mars on October 27 and October 28.
Mercury, the innermost planet, is at the tail end of its long evening apparition that started in early August 2014, and will end in mid-October 2014. Mercury will become a fine morning object for Northern Hemisphere viewers (and those residing at southern tropical latitudes) by late October and early November. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the rising sun on November 1, 2014.
Venus and Jupiter, the sky’s brightest and second-brightest planets, respectively, presented the closest planet-planet conjunction of the year in the August morning sky. Since then, Venus has sunk downward toward the rising sun, while Jupiter has climbed upward, away from the sunrise glare. Venus will be difficult to see this month, because it’ll pass behind the sun to transition from the morning to the evening sky on October 25. In early October, Jupiter rises in the east about two hours after local midnight, and by the month’s end Jupiter rises around the midnight hour. The moon shines close to Jupiter on October 17 and October 18.
Special sky events coming up in October 2014:
Mars visible from evening dusk until mid-evening. Although the red planet Mars is getting dimmer as it lags behind us in its larger and slower orbit, Mars nonetheless remains respectably bright throughout October 2014. This ruddy world barely outshines Antares, the constellation Scorpius’ brightest star. Mars moves eastward, away from the star Antares, throughout the month, to enter the constellation Sagittarius by about the time of the Orionid meteor shower is in full swing.
At mid-northern latitudes, Mars sets about 3 hours after the sun all month long.
Saturn at evening dusk. This month, as seen from northerly latitudes, the ringed planet Saturn is found in the southwest at dusk/nightfall in early October, but this world quickly fades into the glare of sunset throughout the month. This golden-colored world shines in front of the constellation Libra the Scales, with both the planet and the constellation fading from view by the month’s end.
It’ll be quite a challenge to catch Saturn at evening dusk as the young moon sweeps close to this planet on October 25.
Binoculars won’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, but a small telescope will. Early October may be your final opportunity to view Saturn in evening sky, because Saturn will sit very close to the sunset glare by the month’s end. Saturn is highest up in early October and might be a telescopic object at nightfall. Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 22o from edge-on in October 2014, showing us their northern face. Several years from now, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May 2032.
At mid-northern latitudes, Saturn sets about 2 hours after sunset in early September, and less than one hour after sundown by the month’s end.
Mercury at dawn in late October. Mercury moves out of the evening sky and into the morning sky on October 16. By late October/early November Mercury will rise more than one and one-half hours before the sun at mid-northern latitudes, to present the Northern Hemisphere’s best morning apparition of Mercury for the year. Mercury will reach its greatest elongation from the rising sun on November 1, 2014.
Southerly latitudes … tough luck on this one!
Jupiter in predawn/dawn sky all month Jupiter had a wonderful conjunction with Venus – the year’s closest of any two planets – on the morning of August 18. But Jupiter now shines high in the sky at dawn while Venus sits in the glare of sunrise. Jupiter lords over the morning sky right now, rising in the wee hours after midnight all month long. Look for the moon near Jupiter on October 17 and October 18.
What do we mean by visible planet? By visible planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They tend to be bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.
Bottom line: The evening planets, Mars and Saturn, come out first thing at nightfall. From southerly latitudes, you can also view Mercury near the horizon at dusk/nightfall. The morning planets are Jupiter and Venus.