Our first full month of fall brings longer nights and shorter days.
Over the course of the month, we’ll lose about 40 minutes of daylight. Clear skies will come less frequently, but there will be plenty to see when the clouds part.
Bright planets have pretty much left the evening sky.
Jupiter is visible on the horizon early in the month, just before sunset. Saturn still shines in the southwest, but the ringed planet is pulling farther away from us. On Halloween, Saturn will be just under a billion miles from Earth. If you flew in a jet, at 500 miles per hour, it’d take you 227 years to get there!
There is one bright planet in our sky, but it is in the morning. As was the case in September, Venus will shine bright before sunrise. Look for it low in the east.
In early October, Venus will have had a visit from a much dimmer planet, the red planet Mars.
On Oct. 1, Mars was the bright “star” right below Venus. On the 5th, Mars was right next to Venus.
Mars will continue to move higher in the sky for the rest of the month.
On Oct. 17, look for a very pretty sight — the crescent Moon will lie between Venus and Mars, very similar to the lineup we saw on Sept. 18.
Winter stars and constellations are beginning to make themselves seen in October in the eastern sky.
We’ll also see our first appearance of a famous bright star cluster, the Pleiades. The “7 sisters” will be above the horizon by 9 p.m. in early October. By the end of the month, Taurus, the bull, and Auriga, the charioteer, will be above the horizon by 9 p.m.
In our evening sky, the Big Dipper will be low in the north, and will appear “upright.”
Check it out in the early morning, however, and you’ll find it high in the northeast with the handle pointing down.
The Dipper circles the North Star, and never sets at our latitude. It is always in the night sky.
At times I refer to the Big and Little Dippers, and at other times to the constellations Ursa Major, the “Great Bear,” and Ursa Minor, the “Little Bear.”
Ursa Major and Minor are two of the 88 officially recognized constellations in our sky. Those official constellations are recognized by the scientific community, and even have official boundaries, so every star in our skies resides in a particular constellation.
The Dippers are referred to as asterisms, shapes we see that are part of larger constellations.
The Big Dipper forms the body and tail of Ursa Major, and the Little Dipper likewise is the body and tail of Ursa Minor.
An unanswered question in the mythology that created the bears is the tail — bears do not have long tails!
Most of us do not make out the relatively faint head and legs of the bears, but most know the location of the Dippers.
Early October presents some good chances to view the International Space Station (ISS) in our evening skies. ISS will be visible from Oct. 1 through 16, except for Oct. 15.
The best passes will be on Oct. 10 and 12, when the ISS passes over high.
Other passes may be lower in the sky and not as bright.
Pass times can be found at www.heavens-above.com.
You’ll know when you see it — a very bright “star” moving quickly across the sky.
The lack of flashing lights will differentiate it from an airplane.
Check it out on a clear October night!
— Jim White is an amateur astronomer living in White Salmon.