October is the best month for anyone who loves sky gazing. It has 7 meteor showers, two planetary oppositions, the culmination of Andromeda, and a Blue Moon. Just like the seasons, the sky is in transition. But another important fact that makes October a great astronomical month is the fact that all the planets are visible in the sky. The planet parade is back and here is how you can relish the sight of each of them.
Watch: All the major astronomy events in October 2020
The tiniest planet of our family is emerging in the evening sky. On October 1, it reached its greatest elongation west. On October 6, Mercury will be at dichotomy. This means that its face will be half lit as seen from the Earth. It will shine bright as mag 0.1.
Observing Mercury will be a challenging task. The best chance to spot Mercury is in the first half of the month. After that, its altitude at dusk will decrease significantly.
Venus reached its highest point in the morning sky on September 1. At a magnitude of -4.08, Venus is still the brightest speck of light in the night sky after the Moon. The planet is visible in the dawn sky, rising about 3 hours before the Sun. It dominates the pre-dawn sky as a brilliant ‘morning star’.
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If any planet is making news these days, its Mars. The Red Planet is going to make its closest approach to the Earth on October 6 in the years to come. Mars dominates the sky along with Jupiter after the sunset. At a magnitude of -2.60, it has already outshone Jupiter and Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
On October 14, Mars will be at the opposition. This means that the Earth, the Sun, and Mars will come in a straight line, with the Earth in the middle. The opposition is the best time to watch a planet. This article explains why the October 2020 opposition is special. At opposition, since the planet lies opposite to the Sun, it rises at dusk, reaches its highest point in the sky around midnight, and is lost to the morning twilight. You can easily spot Mars at its best in the sky a couple of hours before midnight.
At a magnitude of -2.22, Jupiter is now the third brightest planet in the night sky. It made its closest approach to the Earth around July 14. Since then, its brightness has decreased a bit. Jupiter shines brightly alongside Saturn and the two are high up in the sky after sunset. On October 22, the Moon will pass close to Jupiter. The gas giant is in the constellation of Sagittarius.
Just like Jupiter, Saturn is an early evening object, now receding into evening twilight. At a magnitude of +0.47, it is much fainter than Jupiter. The Moon will pass close to Saturn on October 23 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Jupiter and Saturn are getting closer for their historic conjunction later this year.
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Uranus will be at opposition on October 31. At around the same time, it will make its closest approach to the Earth. Since it has an apparent magnitude of +5.69, it won’t be visible to the naked eye. You will need a telescope to watch Uranus. It lies in the constellation of Aries.
The last planet of our solar system made its closest approach to the Earth in September. Neptune is high up in the sky around midnight, in the constellation of Aquarius. At a magnitude of 7.82, it is not visible to the naked eye.