WHERE IN THE WORLD IS VENUS AND MARS?

by William J. Bechaver

Or more accurately, where in the sky are they?

Recently, we’ve been concerned primarily with the apparitions of Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in the solar system.

But there are nearer planets to view. Though Jupiter and Saturn have been prominent in the night sky, Venus and Mars are nearer to Earth, and should be easier to view.

However, for the last couple of months, both the nearer planets have been obscured by the glare of the Sun as they have both swung around the far side of the Sun, and generally out of view for a time.

Both are on the far side of their orbits, right now, and therefore further away than the Sun. And since they are on the far side, they are further from Earth right now than they have been all year.

But all things considered, they remain much closer than Jupiter and Saturn, sharing the inner solar system with us.

This week, we have an opportunity to view both planets, though on the far side of the Sun, and appearing very close to our mother star.

On the early morning hours of this Saturday 26 October, Mars will rise about a half hour after the thin crescent Moon appears over the eastern horizon. Both will be above the horizon about an hour and a half before the Sun rises, so it will be an opportunity to view distant Mars with the Moon before the sky begins to lighten.

It will help to have a flat eastern horizon, and a pair of binoculars may aid in the search. Find the thin crescent Moon, then look down, lower in the sky, toward the horizon and the Sun, to find Mars. Both should be easily visible above the horizon by six o’clock, rising higher as the sky begins to brighten, and finally both Mars and the Moon will be mostly lost to the early morning glare.

Three days later, on the evening of Tuesday 29 October, go out just after sunset. Look for the thin crescent Moon once again, this time in the southwest.

The Sun will set just around six o’clock. Look up in the sky to find the thin crescent Moon, and then look below the Moon, to find Venus. Venus will be easier to spot than was Mars, because it is much nearer to the Earth, and always larger and more reflective than Mars.

Venus will set about an hour before the Sun, followed by the Moon, about a half an hour after that.

So, this week presents two unique opportunities to view the nearest planets to us. Mars, in the early morning hours, below the Moon. Mars will continue to descend toward the Sun week by week, and finally be totally lost in the glare.

Three nights later, Venus will appear near the Moon in the evening. Venus will continue to climb into the evening sky week by week, becoming a prominent jewel on crisp nights this winter.

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
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• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

The image provided is not to scale, but is merely to demonstrate the positions of the planets in the solar system.
The image provided is not to scale, but is merely to demonstrate the current positions of the planets in the solar system.

ORIOINIDS PEAK THIS WEEK

by William J. Bechaver

October is always a good month for observing meteors. The crisp, dark, steady skies are ideal for watching the Orionid Meteor Shower.

This year, the Orionids peak on the late night of Monday 21 October. Unfortunately the third-quarter Moon will interfer as the night progresses into early morning.

A meteor shower occurs when the Earth’s orbit passes through a debris field left in space. Most commonly, the icy debris is left behind in the wake of a passing comet.

Returning comets pass through the inner solar system regularly, following the same orbital path around the Sun. When they pass through, closer to the Sun, they leave behind a band of particles, mostly dispersed through the familiar cometary tail.

The particles remain in the comets orbit, suspended in space. When the orbit of the Earth carries the planet through the particle field, the debris impacts on the upper atmosphere, burning up as it enters. As the particles burn up, we witness them from below as a meteor shower.

Each October, Earth passes through a relatively dense field of particles orbiting around the Sun. The area in the sky from which the meteor impacts seem to radiate is the constellation Orion, giving its name to the biggest meteor shower of October.

Orion rises high into the eastern sky, high overhead, by midnight. That is your best chance to observe the meteors this year.

About a half an hour after midnight, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the third-quarter Moon will be rising, leaving little opportunity when Orion is high in the sky, before the Moon rises, and the bright moonlight interferes with meteor viewing.

The best bet is go out out late Monday night, about an hour before midnight. Look toward Orion in the east, and watch for brilliant Orionid meteors streaking across the sky.

Typically, you can see about twenty brilliant meteors an hour, or about one outstanding meteor every three minutes. With the radiant still lower to the horizon before midnight and moonrise, some of the best meteors will remain below the horizon. But still, before midnight, you should see ten to fifteen an hour.

After moonrise, more will be above the horizon, but fewer will be bright enough to see through the moon’s interference. The dimmest will be lost to the glare, but again, about ten outstanding ones should be seen every hour.

Also, try looking away from the radiant in Orion. Many of the longer streaking meteors will be seen further away, so look to the north and the west, away from the Moon, and try your luck where the sky appears still darker. Remember, meteor impact timing is irregular. You may see several in one minute, then go several minutes without seeing any. Be persistent to see some of the best meteors this month.

The debris field left in space is relatively wide, due to the many times the parent comet has passed through the solar system. Though the peak is this week, Orionids can continue on into early November, so go out for a week, as the Moon wanes and becomes less prominent in the sky every morning.

The debris field responsible for this week’s meteors is particularly dense, for the comet responsible has returned many times. It has been left behind by the most famous comet, Halley’s Comet. Man has been documenting its passage through the solar system for over two thousand years. Every 76 years, it passes through, leaving behind icy particles, which Earth will pass through this week, sparking the meteor shower.

So, go out Monday night or Tuesday morning to appreciate the Orionids at their peak. Remember to try again later in the weak, for a stellar performance a couple of days after the predicted peak.

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
________________
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

A PAIR OF PAIRINGS TO USHER IN AUTUMN

by William J. Bechaver

As we pass into autumn, and the Sun begins to sink further south day to day, the Earth is outdistancing the gas giant planets in their wider, more distant, lumbering orbits.

Now, Jupiter and Saturn are in the evening sky as the Sun sets, and Jupiter sets just three and a half hours later. Saturn sets two hours after Jupiter, leaving no planets visible in the sky after midnight.

But as we leave them in the distance, there is still a good opportunity to view them this week, as the two are paired with the Moon in the evening sky.

On the evening of Thursday 3 October, as the Sun sets and the sky begins to fade to black, locate the waxing crescent Moon in the western sky. About a couple of degrees lower and to the right, mighty Jupiter still shines bright, making a beautiful pairing in the evening sky.

Jupiter is now far from the Earth, and beyond the Sun, falling into the distant reaches of its orbit. Jupiter is now greater than five times more distant than we are from the Sun, so it is not nearly as bright as it was during the summer months, when it was nearer, and directly overhead.

Two nights after Jupiter and the Moon meet, the first-quarter Moon and Saturn will have an even closer encounter in the sky. As the sky darkens after sunset, Saturn will be less than a degree above the Moon.

Of course, even more distant than is Jupiter, huge Saturn appears dim now, but the near conjunction of the two will still be a beautiful sight, high in the sky as dusk falls, and ever sinking lower in the west until both set around midnight, leaving the sky both moonless and planetless.

As the month goes on, Jupiter will set earlier every night, as will the Sun, but Jupiter will lose about an hour of viewing time by the end of October, setting only two hours after the Sun.

But, in the coming weeks, Venus will begin to rise higher in the evening sky, gradually emerging from the sunset glare, joining Jupiter and Saturn before they are gone.

So, as the autumn evenings turn crisp, go out and find a couple of pairings as the giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, sink into the distance, as they join our Moon in our skies to make our nights just a little more beautiful.

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
________________
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.