Astronomy is said to be the people’s science in part because anyone, regardless of training, can participate. There is so much you can observe in the sky even without a telescope, and of course meteors – also called shooting stars – are high on the list. Observing planets counts as a big thrill, too. On this late October 2014 night, you can catch the moon and two planets in the evening, sporadic meteors from late night till dawn, plus two planets in the morning sky.
Given clear skies, here’s what you can expect to see this evening. Shortly after sunset, the planets Saturn and Mars pop out into the southwest sky. It may be difficult to catch Saturn and the nearby star Antares because both sit low in the glow of dusk and set before nightfall. You may need binoculars. You should have no trouble spotting the moon and Mars this evening. But catch them at nightfall for they’ll follow Saturn and Antares beneath the western horizon by mid-evening.
Jupiter is the brightest starlike object in the morning sky right now. The king planet rises in the east after midnight and is highest up in the sky at dawn.
Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, is presenting a fine morning apparition for the Northern Hemisphere in late October and early November 2014. Find a clear horizon in the direction of sunrise, and seek for this world low in the east as darkness starts to give way to dawn. Try your luck some 90 to 75 minutes before sunrise. Binoculars could come in handy.
No meteor shower is really on tap for tonight, yet there’s still a good chance that you’ll see some meteors in a dark, open sky. Meteor showers are annually recurring events, but there are fewer than 20 major showers per year, and of those typically only two or three can be counted on for a good show. However, if you are willing to accept 5 or 6 meteors per hour, then the next meteor display is tonight – or in general any dark night! That’s about the average that can be expected for “sporadic” or “random” meteors, meaning those that are not associated with any known meteor shower. They are just bits of debris entering our atmosphere from space.
The best time to look for these sporadic meteors is after local mid-night and when there is little or no moon in the sky. (I emphasize mid-night to mean halfway between sunset and the following sunrise, which because of daylight-saving time and geographical conditions is not necessarily the same as clock-time midnight). You might see a few Taurid meteors added to the mix, although the two Taurid meteor showers won’t peak for another week or two.
Bottom line: In late October 2014, you might be able to see the moon and two planets as dusk gives way to darkness. Although no major meteor shower is on tap, you can always watch for sporadic meteors.